If you’re losing your vision due to wet age-related macular degeneration, or wet AMD, it’s normal to want to try everything you can to keep your vision as long as you can. And if you’ve heard that vitamins can help, you may be ready to jump into the wide world of supplements.
But not so fast, says ophthalmologist Ananth Sastry, MD. Some vitamins may help slow the progression of AMD in people with some types of the disease — but not for everyone. Before you start taking any vitamins for eye health, it’s important to understand what they can and can’t do.
Can vitamins help for AMD?
Two large studies of age-related eye diseases, both sponsored by the National Eye Institute, found that a combination of certain vitamins and minerals, known as AREDS2, can help slow down the aging process. progression of age-related macular degeneration in some people. These supplements contain high concentrations of specific micronutrients – more than you can get through food or a regular multivitamin.
But there’s one big caveat: AREDS2 supplements won’t help everyone with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). These supplements primarily help people with intermediate-stage dry macular degeneration, not wet AMD.
“AREDS2 has not been shown to have any significant benefit for eyes with wet macular degeneration or very advanced dry macular degeneration,” clarified Dr. Sastry. “There is also insufficient evidence to show that taking AREDS2 vitamins prevents the onset of macular degeneration in patients who do not already have it.”
Wet AMD is an advanced condition that cannot be cured, although it can be managed and treated. Your ophthalmologist may offer options such as anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) injections, which can help preserve your remaining vision and prevent your wet AMD from getting worse.
What vitamins help wet AMD?
Although there is no cure for wet AMD, if you are living with this serious eye condition, it is still important to practice habits that improve eye health. That includes eating a healthy, balanced diet full of vitamins and nutrients known to protect your eyes.
And although AREDS2 vitamins have not been shown to affect wet AMD, your ophthalmologist may prescribe them if your condition is not improving at the same rate in both eyes. If, for example, one eye still has intermediate-stage dry AMD, you can start taking AREDS2 to prevent it from getting worse.
“AREDS2 vitamins are recommended for people with early or intermediate dry macular degeneration in one eye but advanced disease in the other eye,” explained Dr. Sastry. “Also, dry macular degeneration can change to wet macular degeneration at any time.”
Let’s look at specific AREDS2 vitamins and how they can help eye health.
Lutein and zeaxanthin
Never heard of lutein and zeaxanthin? Most Americans don’t get enough of them through diet alone, but they play an important role in eye health — such a big role, in fact, that they’re sometimes known as “eye vitamins.”
Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids, pigmented nutrients that give plants their bright colors. “They are also found in high concentrations in your retina, where they protect against oxidative stress and help the eyes filter out harmful blue light,” said Dr. Sastry.
AREDS2 supplements contain 10 milligrams (mg) of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin.
Vitamin C and E
Vitamin C and vitamin E are both powerful antioxidants, which means they help your body fight against unstable molecules known as free radicals. If left unchecked, free radicals can cause oxidative stress in your body, which is known to lead to diseases and can be a factor in macular degeneration.
AREDS2 supplements contain 500 mg of vitamin C and 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E.
Zinc is a trace mineral, meaning you only need a small amount – but it has a big impact on eye health. It all has to do with how your body stores and uses vitamin A.
“Your eyes need vitamin A to produce certain pigments, see in the dark and maintain a healthy cornea,” explains Dr. Sastry. But your body stores vitamin A in your liver, not your eyes, so zinc acts as a taxi driver, helping vitamin A travel from your liver to your retina.
There are 80 mg of zinc in AREDS2 supplements.
Copper is also a trace mineral, although it is not necessarily related to eye health. So, why is it included in AREDS2? Zinc affects your body’s ability to absorb copper, so adding more zinc to your diet, such as supplementation, can lead to copper deficiency. This puts you at risk of conditions such as anemia, leukopenia and osteoporosis.
“To help prevent copper deficiencies, AREDS2 supplements include 2 mg of copper,” said Dr. Sastry. “Just enough to give your body a little extra boost.”
What about fish oil?
Omega-3 fatty acids are also good for eye health. But the same study that developed AREDS2 found no added benefit to including omega-3 fatty acids (as found in fish oil pills) in the AREDS2 supplement combo. And you’re better off getting your omega-3s from food, as food sources have been shown to have more health benefits than supplements.
Take care of your eyes if you have wet AMD
If you have macular degeneration – whether wet or dry – you can’t rely on nutrition alone to help you manage your condition or prevent it from getting worse. These serious eye diseases should be treated by specialists.
“If you do not treat the loss of sight immediately, it may not be returned,” warned Dr. Sastry. “It’s also important to know that dry macular degeneration can change to wet macular degeneration at any time.
“If you have dry AMD and notice a new blind spot or central distortion that you didn’t notice before, seek immediate treatment from a retina specialist.”