What About Those Eye Vitamins?
'Eye vitamins’ is a general term. There are LOTS of supplements in that category - it's confusing! Supplements, unlike medications, are NOT regulated by the FDA.
2 important points about eye vitamins
Here are two general points to keep in mind when shopping for supplements:
- Not all ‘eye vitamins’ are alike and they are not for everyone with AMD.
- Just because it’s a vitamin/mineral/plant extract it doesn't mean it’s safe! Everything we put in our bodies has the potential to interact adversely with other substances or diseases. If you have health problems or take medications, consult your medical doctor first.
AREDS and AREDS2 eye supplements
There are supplements called AREDS which stands for Age-Related Eye Disease Study. There were 2 studies, each with a large number of participants followed over a period of years called AREDS (2006) and AREDS2 (2013). We'll be referring to AREDS2 since it is the most recent study. Both studies had the same objective: to see if a specific combination of vitamins and minerals helped to slow down a person’s progression to advanced dry AMD also called geographic atrophy (GA) or wet AMD. These supplements were not studied with those who have other types of macular degeneration, only those who have AMD.
Results from the AREDS/AREDS2 studies
These supplements are not for everyone! Combining the results of both studies, here’s what was found:
- People without AMD or with wet AMD in both eyes were not studied.
- They didn't find any benefit for those with early dry AMD (AREDS).
- They DID slow the progression to wet AMD for some people with intermediate dry AMD and those with wet AMD in one eye but not the other (AREDS & AREDS2).
- They did NOT slow the progression to advanced dry AMD/GA (AREDS & AREDS2).
Before you take any supplement for your eyes, make sure you talk to your retinal specialist, ophthalmologist, or optometrist.
What's in the AREDS2 eye supplements?
I hope you noticed that the AREDS2 supplement was only shown to benefit those with intermediate dry AMD or wet AMD in one eye. Should you go out and buy a supplement now? No, no yet! It’s not that easy. You need to know what’s in AREDS2:
- Vitamin C 500 mg
- Vitamin E 400 IUs
- Zinc 80mg and 25mg are both seen as effective3
- Copper 2mg for the zinc
- Lutein 10mg
- Zeaxanthin 2mg
Is there a specific brand?
Some people think AREDS2 is a brand name, but it’s not. There IS one brand that has the EXACT ingredients from the AREDS2 study: Bausch & Lomb’s PreserVision because they were one of the sponsors of the studies and they hold the patent to the exact ingredients with 80 mg of zinc.
I know you are tired of me telling you to wait, but... wait!!! We’re almost there. We have to learn more about zinc.
High doses of zinc
One of the possible side effects of a high dose of zinc such as 80 mg is some people have severe stomach or urinary problems. There are products out there that have all of the other AREDS2 ingredients but less zinc. You can find products with 25 mg of zinc which was found to be as effective as 80 mg. There are also products with 0 mg of zinc.
Research has shown that people react to zinc differently depending on their genetic makeup. This topic of ‘zinc sensitivity’ (my term) is controversial. Not all of the AREDS/AREDS2 researchers agree. The NIH NEI’s researchers and the American Academy of Ophthalmologists (AAO) do not recommend genetic testing for zinc advice. There are researchers who do support this differing response to zinc.1 Genetic testing for ‘zinc sensitivity' is available.
You should talk to your retinal specialist and read more about this.
Criteria for taking ADREDS2 eye supplements
Let’s review the criteria for taking the AREDS2 supplement:
- You have intermediate AMD or wet AMD in one eye but not the other.
- You know what vitamins and minerals were studied in AREDS2.
- You have talked to your medical doctor about whether it’s safe for you to take those ingredients based on your medical history including the medications you take.
- You've talked to your retinal specialist and done your own research into the potential issues with zinc.
- You have a 'safe list' of which of the AREDS2 ingredients are OK for you to take. Your medical doctor may have told you that you should not take the high amount of vitamin E (400 IUs) because you take a blood thinner.2 Your retinal specialist may tell you that you should have genetic testing to determine if zinc will help or harm you.
You will need to read the labels of each product to match what ingredients are on your AREDS2 ‘safe list.'
Are you aware of assistive technology for AMD?