Supplements for Age-Related Macular Degeneration: What Works, What Doesn’t

January 07, 2015
Nutritional supplements are big business. In 2013, the industry generated $32 billion in revenue, and that number is expected to double by 2021. There are dozens of supplement alternatives available for many health conditions, and it can often be difficult for a consumer to determine what supplement will work best, if at all, given the great deal of misinformation and erroneous claims.
For people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness for those 55 and older, the choice should be easier—reputable sources have pointed to research that clearly indicates what works. Only supplements with the exact formulas used in the National Eye Institute’s (NEI) Age-Related Eye Disease Studies — AREDS and AREDS2—have been shown to reduce the risk of vision loss from AMD.  
However, a recent paper from the journal Ophthalmology reports there are many eye-health supplement options on the market that don’t follow AREDS or AREDS2 regimens. And virtually none of the non-AREDS alternatives have been helpful to people with AMD participating in controlled studies to determine if they work. The multitude of options and unsubstantiated marketing claims can be confusing for consumers with AMD.
“The bottom line is that only the AREDS and AREDS2 formulas have been shown to benefit people at risk of vision loss from AMD,” says Stephen Rose, Ph.D., chief research officer, Foundation Fighting Blindness. “No other nutritional supplement has.” 
The original AREDS, completed in 2001 and funded by NEI, showed that a supplement comprised of specific amounts of beta carotene, vitamins C and E, zinc and copper reduced the risk of advanced AMD by 25 percent. AREDS2, a follow-up NEI study completed in 2013, led researchers to recommend that beta carotene be replaced with lutein and zeaxanthin, which they believe are more effective in reducing risk of AMD progression. Also, beta carotene is linked to higher rates of lung cancer for current and former smokers.
Most of the ingredients in the AREDS and AREDS2 formula are antioxidants, which help protect the body from damage caused by aging, disease, and unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking.
“It is important for ophthalmologists to educate their AMD patients about which supplements are right for them,” says Dr. Rose. “Generally speaking, doctors should be recommending those that contain the AREDS or AREDS2 formulas.”
AREDS and AREDS2 supplements are available at most retail and online pharmacies.