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Dietary supplements to help fight macular degeneration

November 23, 2022 | UCI Health
An older woman peers over her lowered glasses in an effort to read the label and instructions on a pill bottle.
"Adding these recommended antioxidants and other beneficial compounds to your daily routine can slow or reverse vision loss over time," says Dr. Baruch Kuppermann, director of the UCI Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute.

Can you protect your vision from age-related macular degeneration?

Certain vitamins and dietary supplements can help prevent the progression of advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss in older adults, says UCI Health ophthalmologist Dr. Baruch Kuppermann, director of the UCI Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute.

The National Eye Institute's Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDs) found that zinc, vitamin C and E, and other powerful antioxidants helped stop intermediate AMD in one or both eyes from progressing to advanced stages of the disease.

“These studies underscore the value of supplements that can protect your eyes as you age,” says Kuppermann, the Steinert Endowed Professor and chair of the UCI School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology.

"Adding the recommended antioxidants and other beneficial compounds to your daily routine can slow or reverse vision loss over time.”

Prevention essentials

AMD occurs when the aging process causes damage to the macula, which controls central vision. While AMD doesn't cause complete blindness, losing central vision makes it more difficult to see and recognize faces, to read, drive, cook and perform normal household tasks.

Kupperman offers a shopping list of the most essential supplements:

  • Zinc and copper — AREDs found that zinc is the most effective ingredient for preventing progression of age-related eye disease. The recommended daily dose is 50–80 milligrams of zinc daily. Because zinc can deplete copper in the body, Kupperman advises taking 2 milligrams of copper each day.

  • Lutein and zeaxanthin — AREDs proved your mother and doctors were right, you need to eat your greens! Lutein and zeaxanthin, powerful antioxidants found in dark green leafy vegetables, slowed the progression of AMD. Even one daily serving of spinach, kale, Swiss chard, collard or mustard greens, or Chinese broccoli offers protection. But if you prefer supplements, take 6-20 milligrams daily of a lutein-zeaxanthin combination, about two capsules.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids — You've heard about the benefits of eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids to protect against hypertension, stroke and heart disease. The same is true for your eyes. AREDs showed that eating fish two to three times a week can be beneficial. You may also want to consider a daily supplement of fish oil high in omega-3.

  • Vitamins C and E — Both vitamins are powerful antioxidants that can protect eyes from cellular damage. AREDs recommends 500 milligrams daily of vitamin C and 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E, which can also be found in abundance in salmon, avocado, nuts, seeds, many leafy vegetables and cooking oils. 

  • Multivitamins — A multivitamin also provides other beneficial vitamins and minerals. Consider one that includes 2 milligrams of copper to help offset the effects of zinc.

Other protective measures

There are other actions you can take to safeguard your eyesight, Kupperman advises. They include:

  • Wear blue-light blocking sunglasses — The blue light waves from sunlight can be harmful to the macula. Sunglasses with yellow, orange or brown tinted lenses help block the blue spectrum light from the sun, with brown offering the maximum protection.

  • Amsler grid self-exams — The Amsler grid is a grid-pattern eye tool that eye doctors use to detect possible vision distortion. Daily or weekly checks can help you monitor your vision for distortion or missing fields of vision that should be checked further by an eye doctor. Visit the American Macular Degeneration Foundation to view or download a copy of the grid ›

  • Regular eye exams — People with early-stage AMD may not even be aware they are losing sight. That's why it's important as we age to get regular eye exams to catch AMD and other vision problems early to prevent further vision loss, Kuppermann says.
Learn more about the UCI Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute ›

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