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Nutritional Supplementation

With age-related macular degeneration, there are certain risk factors that one cannot control such as genetics. However, certain lifestyle modifications are controllable and can certainly slow the progression of disease and associated visual loss. Most individuals are well aware of the importance of diet and exercise in improving all aspects of their individual health. In addition, smoking has been absolutely linked to development and progression of macular degeneration. Those who smoke are urged to consider cessation of this habit to help reduce risks of visual loss from macular degeneration, as well as improve their overall health. Finally, a recent large, national study (the Age-Related Eyed Disease Study, or AREDS) has proven the benefit of a specific formulation of nutritional supplements in reducing the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration.

The AREDS formula contains large doses of Vitamins A, C, and E, as well as the mineral, zinc. Those who took this formulation in the study were approximately 28% less likely to develop advanced macular degeneration when compared to those who took no supplements or their regular multivitamin. It must be emphasized that this nutritional supplement is not intended to cure macular degeneration, nor can it reverse visual loss suffered from prior manifestations of macular degeneration. The supplement is also not a substitute for treatments aimed at the wet form of macular degeneration. However, it represents a very valuable preventive measure to those at high risk of developing advanced macular degeneration. No benefit was proven for those who do not exhibit certain risk factors for disease progression; your specific case should be discussed with your retina specialist or other qualified eyecare professional.

AREDS supplements are specifically not recommended for smokers or recent ex-smokers. There have been reports of an increased risk of lung cancer with high-dose vitamin A supplementation. Certain companies have produced ‘smoker’s formulations’ that eliminate vitamin A from the pill, or replace it with lutein. The best advice for any smoker with macular degeneration is to quit smoking. However, nutritional supplements may still be recommended to help prevent or slow the progression of disease.

In seeking the AREDS supplement, all products containing the exact proven formulation are labeled with the study letters (AREDS). Many companies have combined this formulation with other nutrients such as lutein or other components of multivitamins; the benefits of these ‘extra’ nutrients have not been proven. However, individuals are recommended to also continue their daily multivitamin if this is what they had been taking in the past; in the study, no changes were made to multivitamin regimens regardless of whether participants were receiving the AREDS supplement or not.

As with any new drug or medication, be sure to discuss the addition of the AREDS supplement with your primary medical doctor to be sure there are no conditions or drug interactions that would contraindicate this treatment in your