Study confirms that supplements can help slow age-related macular degeneration

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A recent follow-up study by the National Institutes of Health found that dietary supplements helped slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness in older Americans after 10 years.

The study, published in JAMA Ophthalmology and led by Emily Chew, MD, director of the Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Application at the National Eye Institute (NEI). Chew and her colleagues set out to conduct follow-up research on the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2).

The original 1996 study, AREDS, suggested that a supplement cocktail of vitamin C, vitamin E, copper, zinc, and beta-carotene could slow the progression AMD from moderate to advanced disease. A related study however, found that those who smoked and took  beta-carotene had a significantly higher risk of lung cancer than previously thought.

The next study, AREDS2, was conducted in 2011. It compared the beta-carotene formation to a supplement containing zeaxanthin and lutein, active antioxidants in the retina. In this study, researchers found that lutein and zeaxanthin did not increase the progression of lung cancer and that this new cocktail could reduce the risk AMD progression by 26 percent. After the five-year study period, participants were offered the new formulation containing zeaxanthin and lutein.

In the most recent study, Chew and her team of researchers followed up with 3,883 of AREDS2 participants five years and then 10 years after the study. The follow-up data suggested that participants who received the lutein and zeaxanthin formula had no increased risk of lung cancer, and after 10 years, they had a 20 percent reduced risk of progression to late AMD compared to those who received the beta-carotene. In addition, the data indicated that beta-carotene continued to increase the risk of lung cancer in those who had smoked by almost double compared to the lutein and zeaxanthin formula.

According to researchers, these results validate their previous findings. “These results confirmed that switching our formula from beta-carotene to lutein and zeaxanthin was the right choice,” said Chew.