More than 10 million Americans suffer from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) — making it the leading cause of visual impairment and blindness in older adults. And the mainstream has very little to offer — in terms of treatment and even prevention — for this devastating condition. In fact, many experts consider it an “incurable” disease.
Fortunately, four powerhouse nutrients offer new hope for people with AMD, as a new study shows. And I’ll tell you all about that important study in a moment, but first, let’s back up…
Lack of mainstream options for AMD
The two main forms of AMD — dry and wet — both affect the retina, but in different ways.
The “dry” form of macular degeneration results from drusen deposits (yellow deposits underneath the retina). Over time, the drusen deposits block your macula — which contains a collection of highly specialized cells at the center of your retina. You need these special cells for sharp, straight-ahead vision, like when reading or driving.
The more severe, “wet” form of macular degeneration results from abnormal proliferation of blood vessels in your eye. These vessels leak blood and fluids that block the retina. Eventual scarring leads to a serious loss of vision. (This growth also resembles what happens in cancer, which stimulates the growth of new blood vessels to supply glucose and oxygen to fast-growing, out-of-control tumors.)
Currently, there’s no mainstream treatment for the dry form of AMD. And the treatments for the wet form attempt to block the multiplying of cells that line the insides of the eye’s blood vessels. But the treatments aren’t very effective and are very expensive.
Fortunately, modern researchers are starting to look at the nutritional causes of AMD…
Two powerhouse carotenoids hold potential
In 2013, I reported on the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), which demonstrated that patients can delay the progression of and prevent AMD with a high-dose antioxidant supplement. And the follow-up AREDS2 study found that adding carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin to the diet can provide additional benefits.
As you may recall, nobody at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) knew about these two carotenoids when I first began research on them with colleagues at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center in the mid-1980s. Back then, NIH focused exclusively on beta-carotene — which subsequently failed in cancer prevention studies when given as an isolated, synthetic supplement.
We — however — chose to focus on lutein and zeaxanthin because they’re more commonly found in foods. Plus, we found that lutein and zeaxanthin can cross the blood-brain barrier. Turns out, these compounds also benefit the eye, which forms during embryological development from brain tissue.
And the new study shows that men and women with AMD had “significantly lower” levels of four other key nutrients…
Four more key nutrients lacking in participants’ diet
For this new study, researchers looked at 480 older people with late-stage AMD and matched them against 518 controls with no signs of AMD.
Overall, 65 percent of the control group with no signs of AMD met the recommended daily intake of vegetables. By comparison, just 53 percent of people with AMD met the recommended daily intake of vegetables. And that difference led to some other specific deficiencies.
Specifically, compared to AMD-free controls, people with late-stage AMD had “significantly lower” intakes of:
- B vitamin folate
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
These findings make sense, given what we know about these nutrients…
For one, natural beta-carotene, as found in carrots, supports eye health. Second, studies strongly link the B vitamin folate with nerve health, required for vision health. Third, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can wipe out free radicals that can harm the eye. (Though both groups were below my recommended dose of 250 mg twice per day.)
Vitamin E was the last nutrient spotlighted in the study. And I was pleased to see the researchers included it. In my view, it makes sense that the healthy controls, without AMD, had higher levels of vitamin E. We typically see high vitamin E, together with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, in people who have a diet rich in fish and seafood.
So, what do these findings mean for you…
Overall, the findings suggest that higher nutritional status seems to protect against the development of AMD.
Below is my science-backed, vision-protecting protocol:
- Follow a balanced diet
Protect your vision by following a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fish, and seafood, which will provide you with a variety of carotenoids along with the following vitamins. You can also supplement with the dosages below:
- vitamin B9 (250 mcg daily)
- vitamin C (250 mg twice daily)
- vitamin E (200 IU daily)
- Eat the colors of the rainbow
I always recommend eating foods high in healthy carotenoids, including lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, dark, leafy greens, and tomatoes. Getting carotenoids from your diet will boost your general health and eye health specifically. You can also supplement with the following dosages:
- lutein (12 mg daily)
- lycopene (10 to 12 mg daily)
- zeaxanthin (10 mg daily)
- Know your carotene
As you know, I always advise against taking synthetic beta-carotene. But natural beta-carotene, as found in foods like carrots, is fine.
- Add marine carotenoid to your regimen
I also recommend taking a healthy marine carotenoid called astaxanthin (pronounced asta-ZAN-thin). Research shows that this little-known carotenoid could add years, even decades to your life. In fact, it activated a “longevity gene” in a recent lab study. You can find it in a convenient liquid form together with vitamin D. I recommend 4 mg daily.
“Intake of key micronutrients and food groups in patients with late-stage age-related macular degeneration compared with age–sex-matched controls,” British Journal of Ophthalmology 2017; 101(8): 1027-1031.