Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in people over 65 in the United States. According to a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins and in the Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group, a national coalition of scientists studying the frequency of eye disease in the U.S. estimated that the incidence of this disease will increase from 1.75 million to almost 3 million people by the year 2020.
AMD is characterized by a thinning of the macular pigment, microscopic scarring, and the presence of oxidized fats, such as lipofuscin or drusen. This type of macular degeneration is called “dry” and is the most common of the two forms. Vision loss in dry AMD usually progresses slowly. The other form of AMD is “wet” which is less common. It is caused by tiny blood vessels under the retina leaking or breaking open. This type occurs more rapidly and can cause vision loss.
Laser therapies can be effective in controlling the advances of wet AMD, but are ineffective in treating dry AMD. Extensive research has shown that people who eat lutein-rich foods such as kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce and broccoli, have a substantially lower risk of developing AMD. Some research shows that lutein supplements can prevent or slow the development of AMD. What is this substance called lutein?
Lutein is an antioxidant and part of the family of carotenoids that includes beta-carotene and lycopene. Lutein forms the macular pigment which is the center most part of the eye’s retina. Lutein works by protecting the eye from free-radical damage caused when photons from light strike the eye. When the macular pigment thins, it increases the odds of developing macular degeneration. Studies have shown that 12mg-15mg daily can increase macular pigment density along with 1g of zeaxanthin ester (related antioxidant), small amounts of vitamins C and E, zinc, and selenium.
Research has also shown that lutein improves visual acuity in patients with cataracts, it reduces cardiovascular disease, and in animal studies, has shown a lower incidence of breast cancer and smaller tumors.
Dosage for prevention is 5-6mg daily. If you have AMD, take 30mg daily and tell your doctor. There are usually two types of lutein supplements: free (unbound) and lutein ester. Both products are good if you buy them at a reputable store. Hopefully, you’ll SEE the difference when using it.