Eye Health, Food / Nutrition

5 Nutrients that Slow the Progression of Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. There is no cure for AMD, but there are steps you can take to slow the disease’s progression. If you suffer from AMD, I’m sure your doctor has already discussed the benefit of laser therapies and anti-angiogenic drugs, but consuming certain nutrients has also proven to be helpful.

Nutrients that Slow Macular Degeneration

  • Beta carotene
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Zinc
  • Lutein

While all of these nutrients possess individual eye health benefits, (with the exception of lutein) they are only effective for slowing the progression of MD when combined. Whether you consume these nutrients from a diet rich in whole foods or from supplements doesn’t appear to matter much, but they must be used in concert.

“Scientists found that people at high risk of developing advanced stages of AMD, a leading cause of vision loss, lowered their risk by about 25 percent when treated with a high-dose combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and zinc. In the same high risk group—which includes people with intermediate AMD, or advanced AMD in one eye but not the other eye—the nutrients reduced the risk of vision loss caused by advanced AMD by about 19 percent. For those study participants who had either no AMD or early AMD, the nutrients did not provide an apparent benefit. The clinical trial—called the Age-Related EyeDisease Study (AREDS)—was sponsored by the National Eye Institute(NEI), one of the Federal government’s National Institutes ofHealth.”1

You may have noticed that all of these nutrients, including lutein, are antioxidants. This is not a coincidence. Antioxidants protect eye health, just as antioxidants protect all of our cells and tissues from free-radical damage.

How Beta Carotene Improves Eye Health

Beta carotene (pro-vitamin A) is converted into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is necessary for good vision and eye health because it protects the transparent layer that forms the front surface of the eye, known as the cornea.

The main reason beta carotene is preferable to straight vitamin A is safety. Excess vitamin A from animal sources and supplements are toxic.

“However, beta-carotene and provitamin A carotenoids from fruits and vegetables do not pose the same risk of toxicity, since these compounds are water-soluble and easily eliminated from the body.”2

How Vitamin C Improves Eye Health

Vitamin C improves and protects eye health by promoting healthy capillaries –the hair-fine blood vessels in the eyes. And, of course, anything that benefits blood vessels benefits blood flow. Without optimal blood flow to the eyes, vision is negatively affected.

In addition, multiple studies have demonstrated that vitamin C decreases the risk of developing cataracts by more than 60%. Vitamin C is also believed to slow the growth of cataracts in those who already have them. You can read more about that in the journal JAMA Opthamology.

How Vitamin E Improves Eye Health

Vitamin E is a natural blood thinner, which helps to prevent blood clots and improve blood flow to the eyes (among other organs). Studies have indicated that vitamin E reduces the progression of AMD and cataract formation. Vitamin E is also important for immune system function and general cell health.

“The landmark Age-Related Eye Disease Study (or AREDS), sponsored by the National EyeInstitute, established that AMD is linked to nutrition. The study showed that a 400 IU/day intake of vitamin E, taken with beta-carotene, vitamin C and zinc supplementation, slows the progression of AMD by about 25 percent in individuals at high risk for the disease. Seven smaller studies have confirmed these results.”3

How Zinc Improves Eye Health

Like all of the previously mentioned nutrients, zinc is necessary for proper immune system function. Zinc helps our body absorb beta carotene (vitamin A)and helps many antioxidant enzymes in the body reduce the number of free radicals. Zinc has been shown to protect against AMD and night blindness.

“You have high levels of the mineral in your macula, part of the retina. Zinc helps vitamin Acreate a pigment called melanin, which protects your eye. Though zinc deficiency makes seeing at night more difficult, zinc supplementation does not necessarily help you see better at night).”4

Sometimes, it is best to get certain nutrients from foods. Not only because supplementation doesn’t always work for some health issues in comparison to food sources, but also because some nutrients require a balance with others. In the case of zinc, if you supplement, you will need to take a copper supplement as well. The dosage of copper will depend on the zinc dosage.

At present, the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for zinc is 8mg for women and11mg for men, with a tolerable upper intake level of 40mg for all adults over 18.

How Lutein Improves Eye Health

Lutein (aka “the eye vitamin”) is essential to eye health. Lutein is one of two major carotenoids found as a color pigment in the human eye (macula and retina). Lutein is believed to serve as a light filter, protecting the eye tissues from sunlight damage.

According to WebMD, to reduce cataract and AMD risk we need 6mg of lutein per day. To reduce AMD symptoms 10mg per day of lutein is needed. Also, those who consume 6.9 to 11.7mg of lutein per day through diet have the lowest risk of developing cataracts and AMD.

Copper: An Honorable Mention

When using nutritional supplements, a balance must be maintained. As mentioned earlier, if you supplement with zinc you will need to balance it with a copper supplement as well. But copper is beneficial to eye health in its own right.

Copper strengthens our arteries and capillaries, improving necessary blood flow to the eyes and helping to prevent arterial ruptures; it has certainly proven to be an excellent treatment for nosebleeds. Copper is an essential trace mineral, meaning we cannot live without it. It is present in all body tissues and it is needed to make red blood cells and maintain nerve cells and the immune system. Copper helps the body form collagen and absorb iron.

If you are taking prescription medications for AMD be sure to consult your physician before consuming any of these nutrients in supplement form, to insure that they will not conflict with your medication(s).

If you have any questions about AMD or any of the nutrients discussed here, comment below or tweet me on Twitter.


1 “Antioxidants Vitamins and Zinc Reduce Risk of Vision Loss from Age-Related Macular Degeneration”. National Eye Institute, n.d. Web. November 2018

2“How You Can Get the Excellent Eye Health Benefits of Beta-Carotene”. Primary Eyecare, September 11, 2017. Web. November 2018

3“Vitamin E”. American Optometric Association, n.d. Web. November 2018

4“Is Zinc Good for Vision?” WebMD, May 12, 2017. Web. November 2018

“What is Macular Degeneration?” American Macular Degeneration Foundation,n.d. Web. November 2018

“Age-Related Macular Degeneration Treatment”. WebMD, n.d. Web. November 2018

“AntioxidantsVitamins and Zinc Reduce Risk of Vision Loss from Age-Related Macular Degeneration”. National Eye Institute, n.d. Web. November 2018

“Vitamin C”. American Optometric Association,n.d. Web. November 2018

Nordqvist, Joseph. “What Are the Health Benefits of Zinc?” Medical NewsToday, December 5, 2017. Web. November 2018

Torrey, George, Ph.D. “Lutein May Decrease Your Risk of Macular Degeneration”. Macular.org/American Macular DegenerationFoundation, n.d. Web. November 2018

“Lutein”. WebMD, n.d. Web. November 2018

“Copper: Health Benefits, Recommended Intake, Sources, and Risks”. Medical News Today, October 23, 2017. Web. November 2018

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