Vitamins Found to Lower Risk for Age-related Macular Degeneration

Author:  Yangguang Ou
Institution:  Florida State University

The results from a seven-year clinical study have recently suggested that a combination of vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid intake may reduce the risk for Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). The study, led by William G. Christen, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, revealed that this combination may be effective against one of the leading causes of vision loss in older Americans.

Age-related Macular Degeneration is a vision disease common among Americans over 60 years of age, according to CNN Health. This disease is marked by the degradation of macular tissue, which is made up of at least two layers of nerve cells and located in the central region of the retina. There are two categories of AMD, wet and dry. The wet form, according to CNN Health, is caused by abnormal blood vessel growth beneath the macula that typically rupture and bleed. This form is usually treated via laser surgery, photodynamic therapy, and direct injections into the eye. The dry form, which is more difficult to treat, is typically the natural degeneration of macular cells over time. "If you affect that central part of your vision, no one goes blind from it, but it really interferes with your quality of life," said Roy Rubinfeld, an ophthalmologist from the American Academy of Ophthalmology. AMD may cause a variety of problems for many daily activities, such as driving and reading, because it causes loss of vision in the central field of view.

The trial included more than 5,400 women, 40 years of age and older. These women have either been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or have at least three risk factors for contracting heart disease, and most of the women did not have AMD at the beginning of the seven-year period. According to Christen, these women were chosen for the study because the cardiovascular system plays an important role in AMD. Many researchers believe that AMD and cardiovascular disease share many common risk factors, such as cigarette smoking.

Based on previous laboratory publications which revealed that folic acid and the vitamins B6 and B12 decrease the level of homocysteine, an amino acid found to be elevated during cases of AMD, Christen and his colleagues specifically focused on these compounds. The findings from their clinical trial proved promising. Of the 5,400 patients, those who received the combined supplements had an average of 34 percent lower risk of contracting any form of AMD than those who received the placebo (no supplement). In addition, those who received the supplements had a 41 percent lower risk to develop more severe forms of AMD than their placebo counterparts.

When questioned by CNN Health if people with AMD should start taking folic acid, vitamins B6, and B12 supplements, Robert Frank of the American Academy of Ophthalmology said probably not: "If you do anything, I would take a supplement of antioxidant vitamins containing high doses of vitamins A, E, C and zinc." According to CNN, these supplements have been found in previous studies done by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health to prevent the progression of AMD. Frank also said that there needs to be a larger clinical trial in the future before any determination is made about multivitamins and AMD; since this study was exclusively done on the older female population, a variety of subjects may be needed to distinguish these results from those of older males. However, Frank did say that there is little risk for most people to take a daily multivitamin.

Written by: Yangguang Ou

Edited by: Brittany Raffa

Published by: Hoi See Tsao