One of the most common eye diseases is Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). At least one million Canadians suffer with the disease, yet most people are more familiar with diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Knowing about the disease and how to help prevent it may be life changing. AMD refers to the age-related deterioration of the central part of the retina (the macula), which is adjacent to the optic nerve and contains the fovea, which is at the center of the macula and is responsible for detailed central vision. AMD occurs with age and can vary greatly in degrees of severity.
As a progressive disease, AMD causes central vision to worsen over time. This loss of vision can result in people losing their ability to drive, read or even recognize familiar faces. Dealing with this disease can lead to significant social and economic costs. The number of people who will be affected by macular degeneration is expected to increase significantly. However, with proper eye treatment, eye care and a healthy lifestyle, age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration may potentially be slowed or possibly prevented in some individuals.
There are both controllable and uncontrollable risk factors for developing age-related macular degeneration. Some of the uncontrollable risk factors include advancing age, having a family history of macular degeneration and being of Caucasian ethnicity with blue colored eyes. Controllable risk factors include not smoking or being exposed to second hand smoke, eating a healthy diet including a variety of leafy green vegetables, avoiding the consumption of processed foods and foods that contribute to the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), having a healthy blood pressure, normal homocysteine levels, and maintaining a healthy weight. It is also very important to protect your eyes from damaging UV rays.
Taking antioxidant and vitamin supplements can also play an important role in helping to prevent and minimize factors that contribute to age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration. Studies have suggested that certain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can help to decrease the effects of certain risk factors for macular degeneration, which in turn may reduce the chance of getting this disease or prevent its progression. Carnosine, vitamins B12, B6 and folic acid, as well as zeaxanthin and lutein are valuable nutrients in the fight against AMD. A specific vitamin formulation has also been suggested by a long term eye health study as beneficial for preventing AMD. Consider the following ingredients when choosing your eye health supplements:
Misshapen proteins accumulate across the entire structure of the eye as a result of aging, interfering with visual functioning. AGEs, in particular, play a major role in the universal age-related loss of eye structure and function, as well as in the more specific degenerative diseases of the aging eye, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and AMD. Carnosine delivered directly to the eye in a topical format helps to protect against the damaging effects of AGEs.
Vitamins B12, B6 and Folic Acid
In one study, subjects included 5,442 females 40 years or older. Of these, 5,205 did not have an AMD diagnosis at baseline. Participants received either a combination of folic acid plus vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 or placebo. The daily dosages used in the study were 2.5 milligrams (mg) of folic acid, 50 mg of B6 and 1 mg of B12. After an average of 7.3 years, 55 cases of AMD were reported in the vitamin B treatment group and 82 cases in the placebo group, suggesting that daily supplementation with folic acid, B6 and B12 may reduce risk of AMD.
Zeaxanthin and Lutein
These pigments give vegetables such as corn and spinach their color and in the human body these are fat-soluble carotenoids that are found primarily in the retina. Clinical and observational studies have demonstrated their effectiveness in dealing with the symptoms of AMD. One study used 30 mg daily of both lutein and zeaxanthin to raise macular pigment optical density (OD) in healthy human subjects by as much as 40% in a dose-dependent manner. The macular pigment is believed to protect against the development of macular degeneration. It is believed that lutein and zeaxanthin in the macula block blue light from reaching the underlying structures in the retina, reducing the risk of light-induced oxidative damage that could lead to AMD.
Evidence for Vitamin Use from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study
In 2013, the results of the second large-scale Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS2) sponsored by the National Eye Institute were published. AREDS2 followed the first 5-year AREDS study published in 2001, which found use of a daily antioxidant supplement containing beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and copper reduced the risk of progressive AMD by 25 percent among participants with early stage and intermediate macular degeneration.
AREDS2 investigated the effect of other nutrients including lutein and zeaxanthin on the prevention of AMD and other age-related eye diseases. AREDS2 also studied the effect of removing beta-carotene from the AREDS supplement, since supplementation of this vitamin A precursor has been associated with increased risk of certain cancers among smokers and previous smokers.
AREDS2 results revealed that participants with early signs of macular degeneration who took a modification of the original AREDS nutritional supplement that contained 10 mg lutein and 2 mg zeaxanthin (and no beta-carotene) every day for the 5-year study period had a 10 to 25 percent reduced risk of AMD progression. Study participants whose diets contained the lowest amounts of foods containing natural lutein and zeaxanthin experienced the greatest AMD risk reduction from taking the daily nutritional supplement.
The results of several research studies involving eye health have indicated that there is a link between diet and advanced macular degeneration. Further research studies are needed to learn more about the effects of various supplements taken at certain stages of macular degeneration or using them as preventive supplements. However, there is sufficient evidence to recommend the use of these supplements for supporting eye health and also overall health.
What measures do you take to keep your eyes healthy? Leave a question or comment below, we love hearing from you!
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