Many of the signs of aging just make us feel old – graying hair, deepening “laugh lines,” mild forgetfulness. But without question, one of the most debilitating – and daunting – conditions we face as we get older is age-related macular degeneration or AMD, the leading cause of vision loss and blindness for those 65 and older. The fear and helplessness associated with deteriorating vision is something that too many of us have had to face. Now a recent study is providing some hope, along with a protocol that may halt or slow AMD’s progression.
The disease is just as the name suggests: the degeneration of the macula, which is the center part of the retina. The macula is responsible for fine, detailed vision, and as it deteriorates, your field of vision narrows until you can’t see anything at all. This usually happens gradually, maybe taking many years before reaching total blindness. But for those who have it, it can be a frightening path to follow – particularly since mainstream medicine offers virtually no way to halt it.
Needing glasses or bifocals doesn’t mean that you have AMD, or that you’re at a greater risk of developing it. In some ways, however, it may actually help you, because a regular checkup with your ophthalmologist will include an AMD screening. Up until now, early detection hasn’t helped much, since doctors had little to recommend. But new research is revealing some hope for those who have been diagnosed with AMD.
The study, which was published in the Archives of Ophthalmology, showed that a regular supplement program that includes antioxidants and zinc can reduce the progression of AMD by as much as 25 percent. The study specifically monitored people who already showed signs of AMD, and found evidence that this combination of supplements can stop or slow the path of this disease.
This is not exactly a “discovery” in alternative medicine circles. Forward-thinking doctors have been talking about the relationship between nutrition and vision for years. But this is the first time that a large scale, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial in a mainstream medical journal has supported the theory. It’s a big step in support of supplements – and a big step forward in ophthalmology.
Here are the details: the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (called AREDS for short) began enrolling participants in November of 1992, and continued recruiting until January of 1998.The resulting 3,597 participants were tracked until the study ended in April 2001. On average, the participants were studied for 6.3 years, with vision exams every six months while they participated in the study. All of the participants were between the ages of 55 and 80, and were equally divided between men and women.
The group was divided into categories depending on the state of their vision at baseline (for example, Category 4 patients already had AMD at the beginning of the study, while Category 2 patients showed only borderline AMD characteristics). All categories were randomly assigned one of the following regimens: daily supplementation with antioxidants (500 mg vitamin C, 400 IUs of vitamin E, 15 mg beta carotene); daily supplementation with zinc (80 mg of zinc oxide and 2 mg of cupric oxide); a combination of both antioxidants and zinc at the prescribed dosages; or placebo.
To measure the effects of the supplements, the researchers compared AMD progression among each of the four groups. When compared with people in the placebo group, the antioxidant group had a 17 percent lower incidence of AMD progression. Folks in the zinc group reduced their risk an impressive 21 percent. But those who took antioxidants AND zinc slashed their risk a full 25 percent.
The study didn’t assess the supplements ability to prevent the development of AMD in the first place. But there’s reason to believe that it could help, and for most people, there’s little risk in following the study’s supplement plan. All of these supplements are very safe at the dosages used in the study; you may even already be taking some of them to address other issues. You should talk to your doctor before starting any supplementation program, but for most people, this combination of antioxidants and zinc is an easy, relatively inexpensive way to fight off AMD and retain your sight.
At HSI, we’ve been telling you about the healing benefits of supplements for years. I’m glad that mainstream medicine is finally starting to catch up – but they’ve still got a long way to go. And regardless of this research, I doubt that many ophthalmologists will be recommending supplements to their patients any time soon. Often, it takes time for change to trickle down to individual doctors – and if you’re at risk of AMD, time is not something you have to waste.
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