In 2001 researchers at the NIH’s National Eye Institute with the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) reported results of a five-year trial that a certain blend of vitamins and minerals could reduce the risk of developing advanced stage age-related macular degeneration or AMD. That led to the AREDS formulation that contained vitamins C and E, beta-carotene (the stuff in carrots grandma always claimed helped your vision) along with copper and zinc.


The same researchers at the NIH redid their study and concluded in 2006 that the AREDS formulation could be improved for better results, which was called AREDS2. Basically, the new formula was tweaked by lowering the amount of zinc (25 mg), removing the beta-carotene, adding omega-3 fatty acids (350 mg DHA and 650 mg EPA) and adding two antioxidants; i.e., 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin. The amounts for the vitamins are 500 mg of C and 400 international units (IUs) of E. The researchers found no reduced benefit in the second study when they eliminated the beta-carotene and reduced the amount of zinc. The zinc is believed essential to the formula, but nutritionists thought a lower dose safer and just as effective. You know all about antioxidants now, having studied the prior sections. The benefit was more dramatic for people with low levels of lutein/zeaxanthin in their diets.

In the previous sections you became knowledgeable about findings that beta-carotene can increase cancer risk among smokers so it was deemed wise to get rid of it. Lutein and zeaxanthin belong to the same group of nutrients as beta-carotene and as they are believed safer, they were included to promote retinal health. This group is called carotenoids and are present in leafy green vegetables. Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A, which the retina needs to detect light and convert it into electrical nerve impulses to send information to the brain. There is no beta-carotene in the eye, but lutein and zeaxanthin are both found in the retina and lens. They appear to act as antioxidants and also help absorb damaging ultraviolet and higher-energy blue light.

Here are FAQ regarding the AREDS and multivitamins (MVIs):

Will taking an AREDS formulation prevent AMD?
There is no known treatment that can prevent the early stages of AMD. However, the AREDS formulations may delay progression of advanced AMD and help you keep your vision longer if you have intermediate AMD, or advanced AMD in one eye. The participants in the first AREDS trial have now been followed for 10 years, and the benefits of the AREDS formulation have persisted over this time.

Can I take a daily MVI if I am taking one of the AREDS formulations?
Yes. The AREDS formulation is not a substitute for a multivitamin. In the AREDS trial, two-thirds of the study participants took multivitamins along with the AREDS formulation. In AREDS2, almost nine of ten participants took multivitamins.

Can a daily MVI alone provide the same vision benefits as an AREDS formulation?
No. The vitamins and minerals tested in the AREDS and AREDS2 trials were provided in much higher doses than what is found in multivitamins. Also, it is important to remember that most of the trial participants took multivitamins. Taking an AREDS formulation clearly provided a benefit over and above multivitamins.

Can diet alone provide the same high levels of antioxidants and zinc as the AREDS formulations?
No. The high levels of vitamins and minerals are difficult to achieve from diet alone. However, previous studies have suggested that people who have diets rich in green, leafy vegetables—a good source of lutein/zeaxanthin—have a lower risk of developing AMD. In the AREDS2 trial, the people who seemed to benefit most from taking lutein/zeaxanthin were those who did not get much of these nutrients in their diet. Within this group, those who received lutein/zeaxanthin supplements had a 26 percent reduced risk of developing advanced AMD compared with those who did not receive the supplements.

Are there any other side effects or risks from taking the AREDS formulations?
Many older Americans take prescription medications, and a considerable number use over-the-counter drugs, dietary supplements, and herbal medicines. High-dose supplemental nutrients can sometimes interfere with medications and compete with other vital nutrients for absorption into the body. Individuals who are considering taking an AREDS formulation should discuss this with their primary care doctors and/or eye care professionals.

The above all come from this

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