Lutein treats as well as prevents age-related macular degeneration Intake of the dietary carotenoid lutein has been found to be protective against age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a potentially blinding eye disease that affects as many as 30 million people worldwide. A study published in the April 2004 issue of the journal Optometry, The Journal of the American Optometric Association, has found for the first time that lutein is helpful in treating the disease as well.
The Lutein Antioxidant Supplementation Trial (LAST) enrolled ninety men with various stages of the dry form of age related macular degeneration and provided them with a daily supplement containing 10 millligrams lutein, 10 milligrams lutein plus an antioxidant multivitamin and mineral formula, or a placebo for twelve months.
At the conclusion of the trial, the groups who received lutein or lutein with antioxidants experienced significant improvements in macular pigment optical density and glare recovery, near visual acuity and other measures of quality of vision. Those who received the lutein with antioxidants combination experienced better overall visual quality than those who received lutein alone. Whereas prevous research with a formula that did not contain lutein did not appear to prevent against cataracts, no significant opacification of the lens occurred in the current study.
Chair of the Age-Related Macular Degeneration Alliance International, Gerrard Grace commented, “The findngs strongly indicate the need for larger studies involving more participants over a longer period to ascertain more definitive findings. However, we encourage people with AMD to discuss nutrition strategies with their doctor now and consider whether taking a vitamin supplement containing lutein might be right for them. This is important because although further study about lutein will take place, we do know from the Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDs) conducted by the National Eye Institute, that there is a beneficial effect of supplementation with vitamins C, E, beta-carotene, zinc—all combined in one pill. This study demonstrated a 25% reduction in progression of AMD over five years.”
Macular degeneration There are two forms of macular degeneration: atrophic (dry) and exudative (wet). Approximately 85-90% of the cases are the dry type. Both forms of the disease may affect both eyes simultaneously. Vision can become severely impaired, with central vision rather than peripheral vision affected. The ability to see color is generally not affected, and total blindness from the condition is rare.
There is little that can be done within conventional medical treatment protocols to restore lost eyesight with either form of the disease. Leading researchers, however, are documenting the benefits of a more holistic approach in the treatment of AMD. Patients are encouraged to increase physical fitness, improve nutrition (including a reduction in saturated fats), abstain from smoking, and protect their eyes from excessive light. Dietary supplementation of trace elements, antioxidants, and vitamins is recommended for improving overall metabolic and vascular functioning. Early screening and patient education offer the most hope for reducing the debilitating effects of the disease.
In the dry type of macular degeneration, the retina deteriorates in association with the formation of small yellow pigment-like deposits, called drusen, that form under the macula. The formation of these deposits leads to a thinning and drying out of the macula. Vision loss is related to the location and amount of retinal thinning caused by the drusen.
The dry type of macular degeneration tends to progress more slowly than the wet type, with vision being lost painlessly. The first symptom is usually a distortion in one eye, causing straight lines to look wavy. Blank spots will occur as the macula continues to degenerate. A vision test will sometimes reveal physical deterioration before symptoms occur.
A double-blind, case-controlled study showed that those with macular degeneration had decreased intake of vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, vitamin B6, and folic acid. This study identified 14 specific antioxidant components that could stabilize, but not improve, dry macular degeneration when consumed for a period of 1.5 years (Richer 1996).
The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are naturally found in the macular region of the eye. Lutein and zeaxanthin help shield the eye from damaging sunrays. With advancing age, these precious carotenoids decline in the eye. The result is a reduction (shrinkage) of the macular pigment in the eye.