Vitamins and Supplements for MD

There is SO MUCH information in the macular degeneration world about vitamin supplementation. A newly diagnosed person can easily become overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information or simply frustrated with conflicting guidance on what vitamins to take... if any at all. I’m here to try to help break things down for anyone who wants basic information about vitamins and supplements.

Why consider vitamins?

Macular degeneration has no cure. There is no prescription to take and nothing we can do to regain lost vision due to this disease. There is only preservation of vision and attempts to slow its progression. That’s where vitamin supplementation comes in.

Many of us who are diagnosed with the dry form of macular degeneration are told there is ‘nothing we can do’. But that isn’t entirely true. There’s a lot we can do to keep our eyes healthy, aiding in preservation of vision. One of those things is to make sure we get the right nutrition. For those of us with the wet form of macular degeneration, there are injections that we can receive to help correct some vision loss and preserve vision as well. It’s important to know whether your MD is dry or wet.

AREDS

The AREDS formula is the most widely used for those who have been diagnosed with ARMD, or age-related macular degeneration. AREDS and AREDS2 were clinical trials on specific nutrients and how they affected the progression of the disease. The studies showed that the AREDS formula helped preserve vision for those people with advanced ARMD.

It’s important to note a few things. First, the AREDS formula is not meant to prevent or cure MD. The purpose is to slow or progression of the disease, helping to keep your vision longer. Smokers should note that quitting smoking is one of the easiest ways to prevent ARMD. Also, smokers require a different vitamin formula altogether

Doing the best we can

I don’t personally have ARMD. My macular degeneration diagnosis stems from having extremely myopic, or near-sighted eyes. This means that the AREDS studies show no evidence in the preservation of my vision. BUT… and this is a BIG BUT here… I feel like giving my eyes the same nutrients as ARMD patients gives my eyes a fighting chance to work as well as they can for as long as they can. I have done the footwork for my own nutritional needs and feel like, for me, these nutrients are only going to benefit my vision.

Knowing your body’s specific needs

This brings me to my next point. It’s extremely important to know our own bodies. Taking specific supplements can get a little tricky for many reasons. We are all unique in what our bodies need, how our bodies react to specific nutrients, and how these nutrients interact to other medications we are taking.

Zinc

Studies show that about 13% of people are sensitive to the extremely high levels of zinc in the AREDS formula. This means that 15% of us have eyes that are further harmed by taking the AREDS formula specifically because of the high levels of zinc in them. There is a simple genetic test (a cheek swab by a company called ArcticDX) that can help determine zinc sensitivity. You can ask your retina specialist or optometrist about getting it done.2

I am a huge advocate for this genetic test because I happen to fall in the proportion of those with zinc sensitivities. So, I’m blessed to know that I shouldn't take the AREDS formula vitamins. Instead, I have to take alternative supplements in order to get the other nutrients in the AREDS formula. Nothing too difficult, but extremely important to the health of my eyes.

Carotenoids

Carotenoids are brightly colored pigments found in fruits and vegetables such as carrots (hence the name), red bell peppers, blueberries, spinach, and tomatoes. This is why it’s so important to eat our fruits and veggies! The main role of carotenoids in our bodies is to prevent disease (yay!), mainly in our eyes (double yay!). They also help fight other diseases and ‘sick’ parts of our bodies such as cancerous cells (triple yay!). They are strong antioxidants, which are magical disease-fighting agents.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Lutein and Zeaxanthin are two specific carotenoids found in our eyes. Interestingly, they are the only two carotenoids found in the macula. They specifically help to absorb and filter harmful blue light emitted from the environment and our electronic devices. The absorption of blue light reduces the oxidative damage that occurs to this essential part of our eyes. 3

Nutrition through diet vs supplementation

You may be wondering if you can just eat healthy foods in order to get these same nutrients. This is not a simple black-and-white answer. It’s slightly more complicated than just choosing either eating healthy or taking supplements. In general, getting nutrients from their natural source is better for our bodies (and eyes) than ingesting them through supplementation.

However, the AREDS studies and formulas are specific in the amount of each nutrient our eyes need. It’s difficult to achieve the high levels of nutrients provided in the AREDS supplement through diet alone. Plus, vitamins are called supplements for a reason. They are there to supplement any nutrients we aren’t getting through our diets. For example, I don’t eat a lot of seafood but I know it’s important to my eyes to ingest omega 3 fatty acids. So, I know that I have to supplement them daily in pill form.

For more information

If you’re wanting more information about vitamin supplementation, dietary needs, and the AREDS formula, check out, you can easily search for ‘vitamins’ or simply type ‘AREDS’ using the magnifying glass for our search engine. A long list of published articles will pop up for you to scroll through and read. You can even get information on what to do if your vitamins upset your stomach or how to buy them for cheaper prices.

Knowledge is power.
Andrea Junge

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