Vitamin and Mineral Supplements and Your Eyes

A recent study was conducted by scientists who evaluated the effects of zinc and antioxidants, and a combination of both, on patients with cataracts and on those with varying stages and types of Age Related Macular Degeneration. This study was called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and was sponsored by the Federal Government’s National Eye Institute. Patient without evidence of cataract or Age Related Macular Degeneration were also studied to determine if zinc and/or antioxidants could prevent the development of these conditions.

Several important findings resulted from this study:

  • High levels of antioxidants and zinc can reduce the risk of vision loss from advanced Age Related Macular Degeneration by about 19% in high-risk patients (patients with intermediate Age Related Macular Degeneration or advanced Age Related Macular Degeneration in one eye but not the other).
  • Supplements do not provide significant benefit to patients with minimal Age Related Macular Degeneration.
  • These nutritional supplements do not prevent the initial development of Age Related Macular Degeneration, nor do they improve vision already lost to the disease.
  • Nutritional supplements do not seem to prevent cataracts or keep them from getting worse.
  • While most patients in the study experienced no serious side effects from the doses of zinc and antioxidants used, a few taking zinc alone had urinary tract problems that required hospitalization. Some patients taking large doses of these supplements are still unknown.

Should you take Nutritional Supplements?

It is important to talk to your physician about taking nutritional supplements if you have Age Related Macular Degeneration. The doses used in the study were:

  • Vitamin C 500 mg
  • Vitamin E 400 IU
  • Beta-carotene 15 mg
  • Zinc 80 mg, as zinc oxide
  • Copper 2 mg, as cupric oxide (copper should be taken with zinc, because high-dose zinc is associated with copper deficiency)

It is very important to talk to your physician before taking high-dose supplements. In addition, smokers and ex-smokers probably should not take beta-carotene, as studies have shown a link between beta-carotene use and lung cancer among smokers.

You can get more information on AREDS from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health website. Information for this article was obtained from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, October 2001.