Diet vs. Supplements: Preventing AMD and Blindness

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common cause of blindness, and so you want to do whatever you can to guard your wellbeing against it. Some wellness experts suggest including minerals such as copper, zinc, or lutein, in your diet to prevent AMD, but do these supplements actually work?


According to the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), which included 3,640 people ages 55 to 80, a combination of antioxidants, zinc, and copper seemed to reduce the risk that people who had mild AMD would go on to more severe AMD. Some of the volunteers did not have AMD at the beginning of the study but others already had mild to severe AMD. Participants were either given a treatment of antioxidants (vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene); zinc and copper; antioxidants plus zinc and copper; or a placebo.


However, while the combination of antioxidants, zinc and copper reduced the risk of AMD progression, it didn’t protect people without AMD from getting AMD. Therefore, researchers are currently investigating whether lutein, zeaxanthin, or omega-3 fatty acids slow the progression of the most common type of AMD, called dry AMD. This is taking shape in the form of another large randomized trial called AREDS2, and it is possible that results will be known later this year.


Researchers are also looking into the benefits of B vitamin supplements in preventing AMD. One large randomized trial gave 5,205 women either a placebo or a combination of vitamins B6 and B12 and folic acid. The results of the study revealed that, after more than seven years, the women given vitamins had about a 30% lower risk of developing AMD. Yet, while the results of this study are encouraging, they won’t be accepted as valid until they are confirmed by other studies.


As it stands, there is reasonable evidence to suggest that if your diet is rich in green leafy vegetables, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and lutein, you may be protected against AMD. However, supplements of these nutrients are not yet proven to be protective and so it is best to get these vitamins and minerals from dietary sources where possible. To find out how, consult your doctor or a dietician.

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