Beth Kitchin PhD RDN blogs on health and nutrition. Her blogs are fact-based and offer a common sense approach to a healthier life. She's a food lover so don't expect her to tell you what not to eat! Beth is a an Assistant Professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Nutrition Sciences Department and the patient educator at UAB's Osteoporosis Prevention and Treatment Clinic. She also appears weekly as a guest contributor on WBRC's morning show "Good Day Alabama".
Monday, March 6, 2017
Taking a Closer Look at Eye Supplements
If you’re taking a
nutritional supplement for your eyes, you might want to take a close look 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.
While this was great
news for people with macular degeneration, there were some problems with the
high amount of supplemental beta-carotene had been shown in other studies to
increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers.
high level of zinc caused stomach upset in some of the study participants
original formula did not have lutein or zeaxanthin or omega-3 fatty acids which
some researchers thought might help
started the AREDS 2 study to answer these questions.
They found that
cutting the beta-carotene and replacing it with lutein and zeaxanthin was
effective and safer. They also found that the omega-3 fatty acids did not slow
down macular degeneration. So now we have the new AREDS 2 formula that came out
several years ago. They also found that reducing the zinc didn’t change the
Here’s what you should
look for in an eye supplement:
AREDS 2 Formula:
500 mg vitamin C
400 IU vitamin E
10 mg lutein
2 mg zeaxanthin
80 mg zinc
2 mg copper
These amounts are much
higher than what you could get in your diet or in a typical vitamin/mineral
supplement. Of course, after the first AREDS study came out, sales
of eye supplements boomed. But some of these eye supplements are not the AREDS
formula and probably won’t give you the results you want.
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 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 ARED2 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