Macular degeneration is caused by a combination of factors including dietary, genetic and environmental. While you can’t change your parents (genetic), you can largely control your diet and environment. Dietary factors were discovered to affect macular degeneration in a number of clinical trials, most notably the vitamin supplement Age-Related Macular Degeneration studies (AREDS I and II) and the ground breaking dietary studies by Dr. Johanna M. Seddon, MD, ScM, previous director of Ophthalmic Epidemiology and Genetics Services at Harvard and Tufts in Boston.
While we do not fully understand the causes of macular degeneration we have observed it to be more common in our patients with poor diet, excessive direct UV sunlight exposure and a smoking history as well as in those patients with a family history of the disease. This prompted the research studies and allowed us to identify the vitamin supplements, diet and environmental factors that could slow or accelerate the disease.
The original AREDS I formula contained varying amounts of zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin A in the form of beta carotene and copper. In addition to an AREDS study, previous work suggested Lutein and Zeaxanthin, xanthophyll carotenoids concentrated in the macula, as shown by Dr. Paul Bernstein, MS, PhD, now at the Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah, were also important. Beta carotene, a form of vitamin A, is an alternative xanthophiklic carotenoid that is a precursor to the visual cycle and was readily available in large quantities so it was selected instead of lutein for the AREDS I study. Subsequent work, however, suggested beta carotene may not be the best choice given. It was associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers and that in excess may even accelerate some forms of macular degeneration. As a precursor of the visual cycle, it may accelerate the formation of the waste products of the visual cycle which form the foundation of macular degeneration.
In AREDS II, lutein and zeaxanthin replaced beta carotene as xanthophyll carotenoids and their benefits were confirmed in the clinical trial. Our Macula Health Complete supplement contains optimal levels of these ingredients based on the AREDS II clinical trial.