Vitamins for macular degeneration – can they help?
Early macular degeneration (AMD) treatment consists of regular eye exams, a healthy diet, exercise, and quitting smoking 1.
As a result, many of the risk factors for AMD are linked to poor nutrition and oxidative stress (an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body which can lead to a number of diseases, like hypertension)2. People above the age of 60, those with family members who have the disease, and Caucasians are at increased risk, too. Other things like smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure can also increase your risk1,3.
Here, we take a look at the role of vitamins, minerals, and other antioxidant nutrients in whether they can help prevent AMD. Can supplements reduce the risk of disease progression and vision loss?1
Vitamins for macular degeneration
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) is a large clinical trial conducted by the National Institutes of Health in the United States4. This study, conducted in 2001, was designed to evaluate the effect of high-dose vitamins and minerals on the progression of age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataract.
During the study, researchers evaluated the effect of vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and beta-carotene on AMD. The results seemingly showed that these nutrients can significantly reduce the risk of vision loss in people with advanced forms of the disease4.
What is the best supplement for macular degeneration?
The original formulation tested by AREDS included vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc, and copper. In a follow-up to the study in 2013 (called AREDS-2), some modifications were tested, including the addition of lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids, the elimination of beta-carotene, and a reduction in the amount of zinc.
The final recommendations of the AREDS researchers included: 5
- Vitamin E 400 International Units
- Vitamin C 500 mg
- Cupric oxide 2 mg
- Zinc oxide 80 mg
- Zeaxanthin 2 mg
- Lutein 10 mg
The effectiveness of the different vitamins and minerals and their suitability for different people, of course, does vary. For instance, it was discovered that beta-carotene may increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers5. It was therefore replaced in AREDS-2 with lutein and zeaxanthin which are believed to be safer and potentially more effective alternatives from the same class of nutrients.
Can vitamins prevent macular degeneration?
There is no strong evidence to support that a diet rich in antioxidant nutrients can reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. In fact, large observational studies have found that taking vitamins and minerals does not prevent or delay the onset of AMD6.
However, it has been found that the intake of antioxidant nutrients can slow down the progression of AMD and prevent vision loss7. This is useful particularly as it can help to reduce the advancement of the disease in those who are already at high risk.7
What does all this information mean for you?
In short, taking vitamin and mineral supplements does not offer absolute protection against the development of macular degeneration. However, the results from the AREDS does seem to suggest that antioxidant nutrients can support the management of AMD in people who already have the condition.
Here’s what you can do to reduce your risk of macular degeneration:
Get regular eye exams
This can help detect serious eye problems, such as AMD, in the earliest and most treatable stages. We recommend that you have an eye test every two years, even if you think your vision is fine.
Eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise
This will help prevent obesity and hypertension, which are both caused, in part, by having an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise — and are also known risk factors for AMD.
Several cross-sectional studies have shown a strong association between smoking and AMD across all geographic regions and ethnic groups8.
Talk to your optometrist or eyecare provider about vitamins for macular degeneration and whether nutrient supplementation is a good option for you. It’s important to remember that any vitamins you do choose to take should not be taken in place of those recommended by an expert, but in addition to.
To learn more about AMD, visit our macular degeneration resource here.
1. National Eye Institute. (no date). At a glance: AMD. [Online]. Available at:
2. Bellezza I. Oxidative Stress in Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Nrf2 as Therapeutic Target. Front Pharmacol. 2018;9:1280. Published 2018 Nov 5. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6230566/ [Accessed 21 September 2019].
3. American Academy of Ophthalmology. (no date). Top 5 Risk Factors for AMD. [Online]. Available at: https://www.aao.org/eye-health/news/top-5-risk-factors-amd [Accessed 21 September 2019].
4. National Eye Institute. (no date). Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS). [Online]. Available at: https://nei.nih.gov/research/clinical-trials/age-related-eye-disease-study-areds [Accessed 21 September 2019].
5. National Eye Institute. (no date). For the Public: What the ARES Means for You. [Online]. Available at: https://nei.nih.gov/research/clinical-trials/age-related-eye-disease-study-2-areds2/public-what-areds-means-you [Accessed 21 September 2019].
6. Evans JR, Lawrenson JG. Antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplements for preventing age-related macular degeneration. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Jul 30;7:CD000253. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28756617 [Accessed 21 September 2019].
7. Evans JR, Lawrenson JG. Antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplements to slow down the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Cochrane. Published 30 July 2017. [Online]. Available at: https://www.cochrane.org/CD000254/EYES_antioxidant-vitamin-and-mineral-supplements-slow-down-progression-age-related-macular-degeneration [Accessed 21 September 2019].
8. Velilla S, García-Medina JJ, García-Layana A, et al. Smoking and age-related macular degeneration: review and update. J Ophthalmol. 2013;2013:895147. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3866712/ [Accessed 21 September 2019].
MOptom (Hons) MCOptom Dip Tp(IP) Prof Cert Glau Prof Cert Med Ret
Hayley is an optometrist and prior to joining Specsavers in 2016 has worked in a variety of settings, including hospital and independent practice. Most notably, Hayley was National Optometry Development Manager for Ultralase, and is a refractive surgery and intra-ocular lens specialist… Read more