A natural way to reduce AMD risk

Looking Good

Two years ago I told you about an important breakthrough in treating one of the most pervasive vision problems that affect us as we grow older: age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

More than 8 million Americans over the age of 55 are at high risk of developing AMD. That’s why the 2001 breakthrough study was so significant; it provided very strong evidence to the effectiveness of an easy, inexpensive, and completely natural way to dramatically reduce AMD risk.

It was refreshing to see the mainstream catching up with a protocol that complementary and alternative practitioners had been recommending for years. And now the mainstream has gone a step further with a new study that validates the 2001 research and puts its importance in clear perspective.

In short, this is information everyone over the age of 55 needs to be aware of.

The vision thing

To understand the results of the new research, we’ll start with a quick review of the 2001 report from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS); a major, ongoing clinical trial sponsored by the National Eye Institute, one of the federal government’s National Institutes of Health.

Over a period of eight and a half years, AREDS researchers recruited almost 3,600 study participants. On average, the
subjects were tracked for 6.3 years, with vision exams every six months. All of the participants were between the ages of 55 and 80, and approximately equal numbers of women and men.

Subjects were divided into categories depending on the state of their vision when recruited. For example: “Category 4” patients already had AMD at the beginning of the study, while “Category 2” patients showed only borderline AMD characteristics. Subjects in all categories were randomly assigned one of the following four 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)
  • Daily supplementation with a combination of both antioxidants and zinc at the prescribed dosages Placebo

After compiling the completed data in April 2001, researchers found that when compared to the placebo group, subjects in the antioxidant group had a 17 percent lower rate of AMD, and subjects in the zinc group had an impressive 21 percent lower incidence of AMD. But those in the group that combined antioxidants and zinc cut their risk of AMD by a full 25 percent.

The study didn’t assess the supplements’ ability to prevent the initial development of AMD, but there are indications that it could help prevent the disease.

Major impact

The most recent round of research using AREDS data comes from a team at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine here in Baltimore.

Applying the 2001 results to estimates of those in the U.S. who are at risk of AMD, the Hopkins researchers concluded that over the next 5 years, well over a million people will develop advanced AMD if they receive no preventive treatment. But if all 8 million at risk began to take supplements comparable to those in the AREDS study, more than 300,000 of them would prevent the
onset of AMD and the vision loss associated with AMD.

In what has to be considered a remarkable mainstream endorsement of the preventive effects of supplements, the authors of the study told Reuters news service that the intake of these vitamins and nutrients by people at risk of AMD should have “a major impact on them, as well as on the public health.”

Risk & prevention

But who exactly is at risk of AMD?

As the name of the disorder implies, age is the primary risk factor, with people over the age of 60 being in the greatest danger. Other risk factors include cigarette smoking and a history of immediate family members with AMD. And in the e-Alert “Mainstream’s Blindness On Macular Degeneration” (2/20/02), I told you how the use of prescription blood pressure drugs called ACE inhibitors actually create a greater AMD risk than smoking does. Finally, women are also at somewhat more risk than men.

All of the supplements used in the AREDS study are very safe at the dosage levels listed above. As always, you should talk to your doctor before starting any supplementation program, but for most people, the combination of antioxidants and zinc is an easy, relatively inexpensive way to fight off AMD and retain your sight.

And this is especially so if you’re also getting a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.

In the e-Alert “Rockets’ Red Glare” (7/1/03) I told you about another study that examined the dietary information of more than 4,500 AREDS subjects, aged 60-80 years. When researchers analyzed the results of omega-3 fatty acid consumption through fish intake on subjects at risk of AMD, they found that those who ate one or more servings of fish each week (four ounces of tuna, or the same amount of broiled or baked fish) reduced their chances of developing “wet AMD” (the most damaging type of AMD) by about one-third, while subjects who consumed more than two weekly fish servings cut their chances of wet AMD in half.

As HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., wrote in the October 2002 Members Alert: “Don’t believe anyone who tells you that there’s no effective treatment for macular degeneration.”

Once again, we see the mainstream finally catching up to what HSI members have known for some time.

“Potential Public Health Impact of Age-Related Eye Disease Study Results” AREDS Report No. 11, Archives of Ophthalmology, vol.121, no. 11, November 2003, archopht.ama-assn.org
“A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Clinical Trial of High-Dose Supplementation With Vitamins C and E, Beta Carotene, and Zinc for Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Vision Loss” AREDS Report No. 8, Archives of Ophthalmology, vol. 119, no. 10, October 2001, archopht.ama-assn.org
“Study: Vitamins Combat Age-Related Blindness” Reuters,11/11/03, cnn.com
“Dietary Omega-3 Long-chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Risk for Age-related Macular Degeneration” National Eye tute,Meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, Program #2112, 5/6/03, abstractsonline.com
“Fish Oil Benefits Your Eyes” Daniel DeNoon, WebMD Medical News, 5/8/03, content.health.msn.com