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Can You Prevent Macular Degeneration with Supplements?

Supplements don't seem to prevent macular degeneration, but they may slow its progression in certain individuals.

As we grow older, our senses may become less sharp. Many people find it harder to hear; others find it more difficult to see clearly. One of the leading causes of impaired vision among senior citizens is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In this condition, the central portion of the retina (the macula) degrades. Eventually, people with AMD find it difficult to focus properly on details in the center of their visual fields. Reading or driving may become impossible. No wonder some readers would like to learn how to prevent macular degeneration.

Will Dietary Supplements Prevent Macular Degeneration?

Q. Is there a good supplement for preventing macular degeneration?

A. A systematic review of the research suggests that vitamin and mineral supplements don’t prevent age-related macular degeneration (Evans & Lawrenson, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, July 30, 2017). On the other hand, a large placebo-controlled study, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2), showed that a multivitamin supplement containing vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and zinc could slow progression of this condition, which can lead to blindness (JAMA, May 15, 2013). Unfortunately, this supplement did not prevent macular degeneration in people who had not already begun to develop the condition.

Staying physically active, not smoking and following a Mediterranean-style eating pattern appear to help prevent macular degeneration (Carneiro & Andrade, Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, online Jan. 5, 2017). You can’t change your genes, which convey some of the risk of developing AMD. However, people who followed a Mediterranean-type diet with lots of leafy green vegetables and more fish than meat were less likely to see their AMD progress (Merle et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Nov. 2015).

Should You Take AREDS2 Formula Supplements?

A review found that genetic factors strongly influence whether or not these supplements help delay or prevent macular degeneration (Rojas-Fernandez & Tyber, Annals of Pharmacotherapy, March 2017). Consequently, the best advice is to ask your eye doctor if you have begun to develop macular degeneration. If so, genetic testing might guide you in choosing whether supplements are likely to be effective.

Learn More:

We discussed AMD and other visual disorders with Dr. Peter McDonnell. You may wish to listen to the interview.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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