Macular degeneration (also known as age-related macular degeneration, or AMD) is a disease associated with aging and is the most common cause of visual impairment and irreversible blindness in elderly Americans. AMD affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail and controls your ability to read, drive a car, and recognize faces or colors.
The biggest risk factor for macular degeneration is age. Your risk increases as you age, and the disease is most likely to occur in those 55 years of age and older.
Other risk factors include:
- Genetics – People with a family history of AMD are at a higher risk
- Race – Caucasians are more likely than African-Americans, Hispanics and Latinos to develop the disease
- Smoking – Smoking doubles the risk of AMD
- Gender- Women are at a greater risk than men
Although there is currently no known cure for macular degeneration, there are things you can do to reduce your risk and possibly slow the progression, such as exercise, avoiding smoking, and protecting your eyes from ultraviolet light. Nutrition may also play a role in prevention of age-related macular degeneration.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
A growing number of studies show that these two carotenoids (the principal carotenoids in the eye lens and macular region of the retina) may play a role in reducing the development and progression of AMD. Both of these carotenoids are powerful antioxidants that filter out harmful blue light rays. Epidemiological studies indicate these compounds may play a protective role in the eye. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), completed in 2001, showed preliminary evidence that vitamins C and E, lutein, zeaxanthin, and certain minerals, including zinc, are possibly helpful in preventing AMD in patients at risk for advanced AMD. A follow up-study, The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) showed that among people having a high risk for developing late-stage, or wet, macular degeneration, a dietary supplement of vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein and zeaxanthin, along with zinc, lowered the risk of macular degeneration progression by at least 25 percent. The authors of AREDS2 concluded that “long-term use of AREDS supplements appears safe and protective against AMD”. Lutein and Zeaxanthin are found naturally in dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and other foods such as egg yolks and maize. They are also available in supplement form.
Several small studies suggest that ginkgo biloba (an herb said to stimulate circulation) may help preserve vision in people with AMD.
In a 2005 study on rats, researchers found that long-term supplementation with bilberry extract helped prevent AMD (as well as cataracts).
Overall, based on the information currently available, most experts agree that a healthy diet including foods rich in antioxidants, such as Vitamin C and E, lutein, and zeaxanthin, along with zinc may help prevent AMD. Individuals with AMD or at risk for AMD may benefit from nutritional supplements such as those mentioned above, which may help to slow the progression of the disease.
(1) Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Clinical Trial of High-Dose Supplementation With Vitamins C and E, Beta Carotene, and Zinc for Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Vision Loss (: AREDS). The AREDS investigators have no commercial or proprietary interest in the supplements used in this study.Arch Ophthalmol. 2001;119(10):1417-1436
(2) AREDS2 Research Group. “Lutein/Zeaxanthin and Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Age-Related Macular Degeneration. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) Controlled Randomized Clinical Trial.” JAMA, published online May 5, 2013.
(3) Carpentier S, Knaus M, Suh M. “Associations between lutein, zeaxanthin, and age-related macular degeneration: an overview.” Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009 49(4):313-26.
(4) Coleman H, Chew E. “Nutritional supplementation in age-related macular degeneration.” Curr Opin Ophthalmol. 2007 18(3):220-3.
(5) Evans JR. “Ginkgo biloba extract for age-related macular degeneration.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(2):CD001775.
(6) Fies P, Dienel A. “Ginkgo extract in impaired vision–treatment with special extract EGb 761 of impaired vision due to dry senile macular degeneration.” Wien Med Wochenschr. 2002;152(15-16):423-6.
(7) Fursova AZh, Gesarevich OG, Gonchar AM, Trofimova NA, Kolosova NG. “Dietary supplementation with bilberry extract prevents macular degeneration and cataracts in senesce-accelerated OXYS rats.” Adv Gerontol. 2005;16:76-9.
(8) Moeller SM, Jacques PF, Blumberg JB. The potential role of dietary xanthophylls in cataract and age-related macular degeneration. J Am Coll Nutr . 2000;19(suppl 5):522S-527S
(9) Mozaffarieh M, Sacu S, Wedrich A. The role of the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, in protecting against age-related macular degeneration: a review based on controversial evidence. Nutr J. 2003;2:20.
(10) Ribaya-Mercado JD, Blumberg JB. Lutein and zeaxanthin and their potential roles in disease prevention. J Am Coll Nutr . 2004;23(suppl 6):567S-587S.