Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Taking a Closer Look at Eye Health Supplements

If you’re taking a nutritional supplement for your eyes, you might want to look a little more closely at what’s in it.

Back in 2001, a well-done study by the National Eye institute found that a specific combination of nutrients could slow down the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is one of the biggest causes of blindness in people over the age of 65.

The landmark study is “AREDS” (Age-Related Eye Disease Study). The researchers randomly assigned over 3600 participants either to a placebo or to a high dose supplement. The researchers found that the participants on the AREDS supplement reduced their risk of progressing to advanced disease by about 25%. The researchers also looked at whether the supplement had an effect on cataracts. It did not.

The supplement only helped people at the intermediate and advanced of macular degeneration. People in the early stages did not see much benefit. So this high-dose supplementation is only for people with intermediate or advanced stage macular degeneration and should only be taken under the supervision of an eye doctor.

The AREDS Formula:

500 mg vitamin C
400 IU’s vitamin E
15 mg beta-carotene OR Lutein/Zeaxanthin
80 mg zinc (as zinc oxide)
2 mg copper (as cupric acid)

These amounts are much higher than what you could get in your diet or in a typical vitamin/mineral supplement.  Of course, after this study came out, sales of eye supplements boomed. But recently some researchers took a look at some popular eye formulas on the market. What they found, is that despite claims to promote eye health, few of them contained the AREDS formula. Many of them marketed themselves as promoting eye health in general when there is really no evidence that they help. ­­­­­­

Eye Formulas that Met Standards:
  • PreserVision Supplements
  • I-Caps AREDS Formula (although, when I looked at the formulation online, this one does not seem to meet the guidelines)

Eye Vitamins NOT meeting the Standard:
  • Eye Science Macular Health Formula 
  • Ocuvite Eye Vitamins

Here is a detailed list of supplements with a comparison to the ARED formula. However, when I looked online, some of the supplements on this list that they state are the same as the AREDS formula, did not seem to be the same!

Surprisingly, none of the Ocuvite formulas had the recommended levels of nutrients in the AREDS study. Also, these supplements that did not meet the standards also added a lot of additional nutrients that have not been studied for eye health. So basically for this last list, the makers are making a lot of unproven claims and don’t have the right formula.

The Bottom Line: If you have macular degeneration, talk to your doctor about which eye supplement is best for you.  Read the labels carefully to make sure they have the right combination of nutrients in them.  If you are shopping for the supplement, you need to compare directly the label on the bottle with the information from the National Eye Institute.  And remember, if you do not have macular degeneration, there is no proof that an eye health supplement will help prevent diseases of the eye!

For more information on eye supplements, the ARED study, and advice on whether you need an eye health supplement, visit the National Eye Institute site

Beth Kitchin, PhD, RDN
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

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