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Vitamins Can Save Your Eyesight

Antioxidants and zinc can help stop age-related macular degeneration

MONDAY, Nov. 10, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- If you are one of the millions at risk of losing your vision from age-related macular degeneration, a simple regimen of antioxidants and zinc may save your eyesight.

If those at risk took the antioxidants, hundreds of thousands of people would preserve their vision, researchers say in a new study.

According to the Macular Degeneration Partnership, "age-related macular degeneration is the number one cause of vision loss and legal blindness in adults over 60 in the U.S.," and it is the fastest-growing form of the several types of macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration, a progressive eye condition, attacks the macula of the eye, where your sharpest central vision occurs. The condition affects 15 million people in the United States and millions more around the world.

The disease rarely causes complete blindness, but it robs you of all but the outermost, peripheral vision, leaving just dim images or black holes at the center of vision.

Two years ago, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) researchers showed that you can reduce your risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration by taking high-doses of antioxidants that include vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene plus zinc either alone as zinc oxide.

At that time, the researchers recommended that people with early stages of macular degeneration consider take these vitamin supplements.

In the current study, appearing in the November issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology, the same group estimates how many people in the United States would have vision loss prevented if they followed the AREDS guidelines.

"If the AREDS recommendations were followed, more than 300,000 people with moderate to severe age-related macular degeneration could have their vision saved over the next five years," says co-researcher Johanna Seddon, an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Since the initial findings, more physicians and patients are using the AREDS vitamin regimen, Seddon adds. Physicians should be aware of the danger of age-related macular degeneration and determine if their older patients have a family history of the condition, she says.

In addition, patients over 55 need to have regular eye exams to be sure there are no sign of age-related macular degeneration, Seddon says. Patients should also make it a point to ask their eye doctor if they have any sign of the disease.

Seddon notes that it is becoming more apparent that nutrition plays an important role in maintaining eyesight.

"You should eat a healthful, low-fat diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and watch your cholesterol intake. Such a diet can help ward off eye disease as well as heart disease. If necessary you can add the AREDS vitamin regimen," she says.

Lee Jampol, a professor of ophthalmology at Northwestern University and the author of an accompanying editorial, comments, "It is very difficult to get elderly people to understand that they need to take the proper doses of these vitamins at the proper time." Over half his patients fail to follow the regimen, he says.

Jampol says that this problem arises partly because patients do not understand how the AREDS regimen works and partly because of the cost of the vitamins. "Many patients are hesitant to spend money, even on medication that might save their vision," he adds.

"It is very important that ophthalmologists go over the treatment with their patients at every visit to make sure they are taking their proper dose," Jampol says.

But he cautions that only patients with diagnosed age-related macular degeneration should be taking these vitamins. Patients who do not meet the criteria should not be on the AREDS regimen, because it will not make a difference in preserving eyesight.

"These are not multivitamins, the doses are big, and they should only be taken if you have the proper indications, as determined by your physician," Jampol says.

More information

To learn more about macular degeneration, visit the National Eye Institute or the The Macular Degeneration Partnership.

SOURCES: Johanna M. Seddon, M.D., Sc.M., director, epidemiology unit and surgeon in ophthalmology, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, and associate professor, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Lee Jampol, M.D., professor, ophthalmology, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.; November 2003 Archives of Ophthalmology
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