The Eye Vitamin Story

Vitamins and Age Related Macular Degeneration

When I was starting to practice retina in 1988, an article was published by Dr. Newsom discussing the effects of dietary Zinc supplement (100mg/day) on Age Related Macular Degeneration. This was one of the first articles to show that we could help our patients better manage ARMD, both wet and dry type, using vitamin supplements. A little more than a decade later the National Institutes of Health published studies confirming the zinc supplements improved patient outcomes, but they also added Lutein to the mix as providing a “statistically significant positive effect”.

What was confusing about the formulation of the first vitamins was that other ingredients that  did not make a difference in outcome at a statistically significant level were still included in the first “AREDS” supplements. An ingredient is either statistically significant or not, but the ambiguity of ingredients whose impacts are  “close enough” only complicates the study and dilutes the effective ingredients,   The initial supplements were not recommend as they cut the zinc level too low to allow inclusion of more of the non-significant ingredients.

Ten years worth of  patient exams demonstrated the beneficial effect of a 60-100mg dose of zinc daily on ARMD clinic patients. A new patient to the clinic would come in and be put on 60-100mg of zinc per day. Some would forget and only take one tablet of 40mg/day (40mg zinc tablets were available at that time). They would be back with increasing subretinal fluid within 2 years (this is pre anti vegf era). If they would boost the dose to 80mg/day, then it would settle down and the vision would recover.

Fast forward to today.  The new AREDS2 formula establishes the correct zinc level and this is now the proper standard of care. However, it is interesting to go to the grocery store and look at the labels on vitamins advertising zinc and its benefits. The only brand that actually followed the AREDS2 formula is “Preservision AREDS2”.  All of the others I have seen have “AREDS2” on the label, but not the right amounts. This is like advertising that you make “chocolate cake” but only put a pinch of chococate in the mix to save money.  Many patients try to comply with our advice, only to be thwarted at the grocery store by unclear and deceptive labeling.   We need to make sure they understand how to buy the vitamins that will actually give them the benefit they seek and deserve.

“Just my observations” PVH

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