Harvard Women's Health Watch

In Brief: Antioxidants in food may help prevent macular degeneration

In Brief

Antioxidants in food may help prevent macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of vision loss in the United States, is a progressive disease that affects the macula, the area of the eye that's responsible for central vision. In 2001, a large clinical trial — the Age-Related Eye Disease Study — reported that a supplement containing high doses of zinc and the antioxidants beta carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E slowed the progression of AMD by 25% in people who had advanced disease. One study suggests that eating a diet chock-full of these same nutrients might actually help prevent it.

Dutch investigators tracked the dietary intake, supplement use, and eye health of 4,170 people age 55 or over for an average of eight years. At the start of the study, none of the subjects had AMD. By the end, 560 had developed the disease.

The researchers found that an above-average food intake of beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc was associated with a 35% reduced risk of AMD. Subjects with lower-than-average intakes had a 20% higher risk. Antioxidants in supplements showed little effect (Journal of the American Medical Association, Dec. 28, 2005).

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