Low Vision and Eye Vitamins

Those diagnosed with degenerative, hereditary, and progressive eye disease are looking for something or anything to help slow or halt the progression of their disease. Since the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) there has been an increase in the number of supplements labeled as “eye vitamins.” Interestingly, there are many different combinations of supplements. Some are labeled AREDS 2, indicating that the formula is similar to the study formula, others are labeled more obscurely like: Eye vitamins Plus, Premium, Gold, Maxi, Lutein, etc. If you flip the box over, and get a magnifier, you can read the names of the supplements’ and their dosages.  It is confusing at best.

Although some research has been done on supplements for eye health and some specific eye diseases, the Age-Related  Eye Disease Study is the one that most of these eye vitamins are based. So a few words here on AREDS:

AREDS is a study supported by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Eye Institute (NEI) to look at the effectiveness of antioxidant vitamins and mineral supplements and their impact on the most common causes of vision loss among the aging population: age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) and cataracts. There were 2 phases to the study, AREDS and AREDS2. They differ by the dosage of zinc and AREDS included beta-carotene and AREDS2 substituted lutein and zeaxantnin for the beta-carotene. Researchers found an increased risk for developing lung cancer in study participants who were former smokers taking beta-carotene.

The AREDS 2 formula:

Vitamin C  500mg / per day

Vitamin E  400 IU / per day

zinc  80 mg / per day

copper  2 mg / per day

lutein  10 mg /per day

zeaxanthin  2 mg / per day

These dosages are above the normal dosages of typical multi-vitamins, and more than can be consumed by a normally nutritious diet.

What they concluded was that this formula is for those with intermediate ARMD (meaning some signs of ARMD with or without vision loss) and advanced ARMD (significant vision loss in one eye.)  The risk of progression to advances ARMD was reduced by 25%. (This falls in the category of ‘something is better than nothing.’) 10 years later it remains effective for the study participants.

The formation of cataracts was determined not to be affected by the AREDS 2 supplements in those with normal dietary (from food sources) levels of lutein and zeaxanthin.  But  there was a small group of study participants who had low dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin. This group, when given the AREDS 2 supplements, did experience a decrease of 30% in development of significant cataracts progressing to cataract surgery.

It was not determined to be effective in preventing ARMD (only in decreasing the progression of existing ARMD). Other macular dystrophies like Stargardt’s and Best’s diseases were not studied.

When deciding on which eye vitamin to purchase, remember a few things:

  • The AREDS was a study for determining the risk for further progression of AMD. In other words, it was not evaluated as ‘protective’ or ‘preventing,’ macular degeneration.
  • Dietary substances need not be approved for distribution, marketing, efficacy, or safety by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So when distributors use terms like ‘preventing’, ‘protecting,; or supporting ocular health, there may be little evidence to support their claims.
  • Watch the dosages listed by the manufacturer of the supplement. The dosage per capsule may be lower than the AREDS formula, therefore multiple dosages maybe required to achieve the same success as the AREDS results.
  • Finally, always confer with your doctor before launching into large dose supplements. There are a few side effects (like beta-carotene and smokers), and some interactions with medications.

In follow-up blogs, I will look at individual vitamins and minerals and possible implications for eye health.

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