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Supplementing Smartly Fights Macular Degeneration Damage

Supplementing Smartly Fights Macular Degeneration Damage: Main Image
Study participants experienced significant increases in visual acuity
Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in the developed world. It begins as a “dry” (nonexudative) form, which, if left untreated, will progress to the more advanced, “wet” (exudative) form, which causes 80% of blindness associated with age-related macular degeneration. Now researchers are sharing exciting results of a dietary supplement trial suggesting that the right combination of nutrients may slow dry age-related macular degeneration progression, possibly preserving vision longer.

Colorful nutrients, antioxidants, and healthy fats

Researchers randomly selected 172 adults with dry age-related macular degeneration to one of three treatment groups:

  • One daily dose of a dietary supplement providing 10 mg lutein, 1 mg zeaxanthin, 255 mg concentrated fish oil (100 mg of docosahexanoic acid [DHA] and 30 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA]), 60 mg vitamin C, 20 mg vitamin E, 10 mg zinc, and 0.25 mg copper,
  • two daily doses of the dietary supplement, or
  • a capsule with no active ingredients (placebo).

Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenes, and are important for eye health because they collect in the macula, which is believed to offer protection against eye damage. In fact, lutein and zeaxanthin are the key components of macular pigment.

The study participants were an average 70 years old, and 84% (145 of them) completed the entire, 1-year trial. Researchers measured pigment density in the macula of one eye of each study participants throughout the study. Macular pigment density is one indicator of disease status; over time, in people with age-related macular degeneration, lessening of pigment density is associated with disease progression.

Compared with the placebo group, those receiving either one or two daily doses of the active supplement experienced significant increases in visual acuity, macular pigment volume and area, and maximum and average pigment density values. The placebo group experienced significant decreases in all measures of macular pigment density.

Protect your peepers

Our tips can help you put the new study results, and other important lifestyle steps to work protecting your peepers:

  • Note the dose. Both amounts of the dietary supplement provided benefit, indicating more is not necessarily better. Ask your doctor or dietitian for the lowest effective dose of this nutrient mixture that is best for you.
  • Go green, yellow, and orange. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found naturally in dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and mustard greens, and in yellow-orange vegetables, including squash, pumpkin, and corn. In fact, people who eat more of these foods have lower age-related macular degeneration risk. Load up your plate with these healthy offerings daily, regardless of whether you take an eye-health supplement.
  • Visit the eye expert. In the beginning stages, age-related macular degeneration doesn’t present many symptoms, so regular eye exams are key to catching the disease early, when it is most treatable.
  • Focus on family. Age-related macular degeneration can be hereditary, which means if someone in your family is affected, your odds of developing the disease may be higher than average. You may need earlier and more frequent screening if it runs in your family.
  • Know your risks. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and being white all increase risk. Talk to your doctor about addressing the controllable issues—quitting if you currently smoke, managing high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and losing weight if you are significantly overweight.

(Graefes Arch Clin Exp Ophthalmol; DOI: 10.1007/s00417-013-2376-6)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.