Back in 2001, researchers involved in the original AREDS (age-related eye disease study) reported that a formulation of vitamin c, vitamin e, beta-carotene, zinc and copper could reduce one’s risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. However, this formula received a few criticisms- primarily regarding its inclusion of potentially harmful beta-carotene. In fact, during the original AREDS trial, the National Cancer Institute confirmed that beta-carotene can increase lung cancer risk among smokers. Further, some wondered why the original AREDS did not research the efficacy of macular carotenoids or omega-3 in treating AMD.
More recently, (beginning in 2007) AREDS-2 commenced. AREDS-2 was initiated to discover whether adding omega-3 fatty acids, lutein or zeaxanthin would make the formula more effective in reducing the risk of wet macular degeneration. The follow up study was also meant to further investigate a safer, more effective alternative to beta-carotene.
Some of the AREDS-2 findings are summarized below:
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Participants who took a version of the AREDS formula which contained lutein and zeaxanthin instead of beta-carotene had a reduced risk of developing advanced AMD by 18% compared to those who took the AREDS formula with beta-carotene.
Further, participants with a low intake of L & Z at the start of the study who took a version of AREDS with L & Z instead of beta-carotene were 25% less likely to develop the disease.
Not only was beta-carotene deemed potentially dangerous for those who smoke, AREDS-2 also found that beta-carotene interfered with the absorption of lutein and zeaxanthin.
The study explored changing the dosage of zinc from the original formula. Results showed that there was no apparent difference in effect of the low-dose zinc on the progression to wet AMD.
AREDS-2 found no evidence that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids was beneficial for treating AMD.
Based on the study’s findings, the risks of beta-carotene and the possible benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin, researchers concluded that beta-carotene (and omega-3) should be removed from the AREDS-2 formula in favor of lutein and zeaxanathin.
It should also be noted that the AREDS trials did not include meso-zeaxanthin (in its converted form), arguably the strongest individual macular anti oxidant of the three. That said AREDS-2 has demonstrated that the inclusion of macular carotenoids (L&Z) in one’s diet lowers the risk for progression of AMD. Additionally, the formula would be improved with a combination of lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin in proportions for optimal absorption.
Proper nutrition can change the course of disease. Foods like bell peppers, corn, kale and other leafy greens contain carotenoids and can contribute to better eyesight. As for those who find maintaining a perfectly balanced diet difficult, taking a supplement containing a triple carotenoid formula is the best solution.
What did you take away from the AREDS trials?