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    Do supplements help prevent eye disease?

    Q. Do supplements help prevent eye disease?

    A. Lots of supplements tout benefits for the eyes, but one case where scientific evidence supports taking supplements for eye disease is for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss in the United States. In 2001, the federally funded Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that an antioxidant formulation containing vitamin C (500 mg), vitamin E (400 IU), beta-carotene (15 mg), zinc (80 mg), and copper (2 mg) could reduce the risk of developing advanced AMD by 25 percent over five years. The AREDS2 study tested a tweaked formulation (10 mg lutein and 2 mg zeaxanthin instead of beta-carotene, 1000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids, and only 25 mg of zinc). Results published in May showed that omega-3 fatty acids did not enhance the benefit of the original supplementation, and beta-carotene could be substituted with lutein and zeaxanthin (beta-carotene was found to increase lung cancer risk in former smokers, prompting a search for a safe alternative).

    The formulation had no effect on halting disease progression of cataracts, nor did it help prevent the onset of AMD. Ivana Kim, co-director of the Macular Degeneration Unit at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and a researcher in the trial, says that the AREDS formulation, sold by several companies, is recommended only for patients who already have intermediate-stage AMD, or advanced AMD in one eye. She emphasizes that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and a healthy lifestyle is the best way to ensure overall eye health.


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