Vitamins for Old Eyes, But Not Omega-3s

Age related macular degeneration may be slowed by supplements but additional nutrients have no effect

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) As people age, their eyesight can worsen. Millions get a condition that can lead to blindness. A vitamin regimen can help, but adding supplements provides no extra benefit.

May is Healthy Vision Month and the National Eye Institute (NEI) is encouraging all Americans to make vision a health priority.

One condition to be aware of if you’re over 50 is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). It is the leading cause of severe vision loss in this older population.

About 12 years ago, the NEI discovered that taking a regimen of vitamins and minerals could lower the risk of getting advanced AMD. The Institute recently found that adding omega-3 fatty acids to the mix did not provide more protection.

"Ask your pharmacist about available vitamin formulations."

Emily Chew, MD, of the Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications, NEI/National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, and a team of scientists conducted an investigation of more than 4,200 patients, aged 50 to 85, who were at risk for progression to advanced AMD.

In 2001, the NEI’s Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that a formulation of antioxidant vitamins C and E, beta carotene and zinc may reduce the risk of progression to advanced AMD by about 25 percent.

In this follow-up research, the NEI tried changes to the formulation, adding omega-3 fatty acids, as well as the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which are in the same family of nutrients as beta-carotene.

After an average follow-up of about five years, the investigators observed that the additional nutrients did not offer any extra vision protection.

As part of the study, the researchers also tried substituting lutein and zeaxanthin for beta-carotene, which prior studies had associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers.

Dr. Chew and her team noted that while omega-3 fatty acids had no effect on the formulation, lutein and zeaxanthin together appeared to be a safe and effective alternative to beta-carotene.

Christopher Quinn, OD, president at Omni Eye Services in Iselin, New Jersey and a member of the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, who was not involved in this research, told dailyRx News, “The study helps consumers understand what type of nutritional supplements are beneficial. In addition to stopping smoking, a known risk factor for the development of AMD, patients should discuss with their eye doctor the use of nutritional supplements particularly if they have been diagnosed with macular degeneration.”

The study was published online in May in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 10, 2013
Last Updated:
October 16, 2013