Costs associated with age-related macular degeneration could be avoided through more widespread lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation a study reveals.

More than 17 million people in Europe suffer from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the leading cause of vision loss in older people.

AMD is a progressive degenerative eye disease and a major cause of vision loss among older Europeans. AMD, which inhibits the ability to see objects directly ahead, can cause irreversible and progressive decline in an individual’s independence and ability to perform daily activities.

A study has revealed that giving people aged 50 and older a daily supplement containing 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin could slash their risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This is because it would cut their risk of experiencing a transition to the more severe and costly late stage AMD by 7 per cent, the authors say.

Commenting on the new report, Professor Jean-François Korobelnik, head of the ophthalmology department at University Hospital of Bordeaux, said: ‘In a perfect world, if adults aged 50 or older with no age-related macular degeneration or with [mild/intermediate] AMD were to increase their daily lutein and zeaxanthin intake, the prevalence and progression of AMD would reduce, based on the overarching body of scientific evidence.

‘Further, as approved therapies are only available for the severe form of the disease, significant cost savings would result from the reduction of the incidence of advanced [severe] AMD.’

Evidence published this month from a Cochrane Collaboration also revealed that there is some evidence to suggest taking supplements containing vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc may slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration in those who already have it. One study found that those who took vitamin supplements had a 28% lower risk of progressing to late stage macular degeneration. The studies that compared zinc supplements to a placebo found a 17% lower risk of progressing to late stage macular degeneration.

Getting lutein from your diet

Lutein is found in yellow-orange fruits and vegetables including sweetcorn, squash, orange and yellow peppers, carrots, mango and honeydew melon. Leafy green vegetables, especially kale and spinach also have a very high lutein content. Egg yolks and sweetcorn are also good sources of both lutein and zeaxanthin.

The Macular Disease Society says the average Western diet is estimated to contain up to 3mg of lutein a day, but studies suggest we need an intake of around 10mg daily. Taking a daily supplement could be a useful top-up.

Healthspan Head of Nutrition Rob Hobson says: “Lutein cannot be made in our body, it comes from diet alone and although diet is always first, it is increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that supplementation can play a critical role in supporting specific health concerns."

Prevention of age-related Macular Degeneration

Taking lutein supplements significantly increases the amount of macular pigment present in the retina within just a few weeks. It also increases macular pigment density in people with established AMD, showing that a diseased macula can still benefit. Research published in Optometry – the Journal of the American Optometric Association – even shows that taking 10mg lutein supplements per day can improve visual acuity in people with ‘dry’ AMD by the equivalent of 5.4 letters on a Snellen chart compared with no improvement in those taking inactive placebo.

Dr Sarah Brewer Healthspan Medical Director concludes: “It’s great news that simply taking a supplement may prevent AMD which is one of the leading causes of blindness in later life. It interferes greatly with quality of life, as loss of central vision means you can’t read a book or newspaper, and may have difficulty recognising faces of friends and loved ones, making it a socially isolating disease, too. While diet should always come first, it’s difficult to get the level of lutein and zeaxanthin needed for vision protection every day from your food. These studies are convincing and this is a supplement that I intend to start taking!”

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References
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25515572
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25358528
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15117055

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplement or herbal medicines.

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