Ask an Eye M.D. Answer Archive

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Question:
Is there any way to prevent or retard the wet kind of macular degeneration?

Answer:
Yes. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), a trial sponsored by the National Eye Institute—one of the federal government's National Institutes of Health, evaluated the effects of antioxidants and zinc on the progression of AMD. The results from this study showed that high levels of anti-oxidants and zinc reduced the risk of developing advanced AMD by 20 to 25 percent. The effect was seen in patients with a certain degree of AMD and was not beneficial for people without any signs of AMD. The NIH has sponsored a follow-up study (the AREDS2 study) which will evaluate the benefits of carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) as well as omega-3 fatty acids in combination with the aforementioned AREDS anti-oxidants. The results of this study, which began in 2006, will be available in 2013.

A word of caution to consumers: To date, the AREDS study is the largest and most comprehensive study evaluating supplements for the prevention of AMD. There are several other herbal products which claim to reduce the risk of AMD. No other product has been studied in as large of a population or as independently as the AREDS study. In addition, there is no evidence that any supplement or vitamin combination can "improve" macular degeneration. These claims should be viewed with a large degree of skepticism. The single largest modifiable risk factor for the development of exudative (wet) AMD is that of smoking. Smokers have a 4-fold increased risk of developing wet AMD (1).

1. Smoking and age-related macular degeneration: a review of association. Eye (2005) 19, 935–944.

Answered by: John Kitchens, MD Dr. John W. Kitchens

Categories: Eye Diseases

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Answered: Jul 12, 2012

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