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These days, vitamins are ubiquitous. Everyone, young and old, seems to be taking vitamins or health supplements. They take them to help lose weight, they take them to help gain more muscle mass during workouts, and they take them to help with their joints and to live longer. So it is not surprising that I am often asked what vitamins patients should be taking for their eyes.
It has long been known that Vitamin A, or beta carotene, is good for one’s eyes. We are told from a young age that carrots (being rich in these vitamins) are good for your eyes. The real effect comes from their anti-oxidant nature.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
One of the only eye diseases where vitamins have been scientifically proven to help is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). So basically, taking vitamins for your eyes in any other case doesn’t have much proven benefit.
Specifically, there was a large NIH/NEI funded study called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) that showed that patients with intermediate dry AMD or advanced AMD in one eye benefited from taking a specific formula of vitamins. If patients had mild or no AMD, they did not benefit from taking the vitamins. This is an important point here. If you have mild AMD or are at risk of AMD, vitamins showed no benefit in this large multi-center study. So taking AREDS vitamins at this early stage would be a waste of money (e.g. 75 days of the product pictured here would cost around $27).
The AREDS formulation consists of the following:
- 500 mg Vitamin C
- 15 mg beta-carotene = 25,000 IU of Vitamin A
- 80 mg Zinc
- 2 mg Copper (as cupric oxide)
If a patient with intermediate dry AMD took this vitamin formulation, they reduced their risk of developing advanced AMD by 25% and reduced the risk of central vision loss by 19%. Those are pretty good numbers.
My recommendation is to take an AREDS vitamin if you have intermediate or advanced AMD in combination with a multivitamin, such as Centrum Silver. If you have mild AMD or a family history of AMD, then I would suggest just taking the multivitamin for now.
There is a followup study to AREDS, called AREDS 2. That study is looking at the effects of Omega-3 fatty acids, Lutein, and Zeaxanthin in the prevention of vision loss in AMD. While the study results are not out yet, patients can consider supplementing their AREDS vitamins with these supplements as well in the following doses:
- 10 mg Lutein
- 2 mg Zeaxanthin
- 1000 mg Omega-3 as 350 mg DHA and 650 mg EPA
My advice is to be careful when looking for an Omega-3 pill as some say “1000 mg,” but not all 1000 mg of that is Omega-3. Read the labels carefully. The picture on the bottom has 1200 mg on it, but only 684 mg of that is Omega-3 and the pills are very large and hard to swallow.
(Note: I have no financial relationship to any of the commercial products described or depicted)