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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