Bethesda, MD—The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published the results of the five-year Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS 2) conducted by the National Institutes of Health. With data collected from 2006–2011, National Eye Institute director Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D., stated, “This study clarifies the role of supplements in helping prevent advanced AMD, an incurable, common, and devastating disease that robs older people of their sight and independence.”

The study investigated how adding or removing certain nutrients from the original AREDS formulation (500 mg of vitamin C, 400 IUs of vitamin E, 15 mg of beta-carotene, 80 mg of zinc and 2 mg of copper) affected patient outcome.  Individuals either took this combination, AREDS with 25 mg of zinc, AREDS with no beta-carotene,  or AREDS with no beta-carotene and 25 mg of zinc. Participants in each group also took one of four additional supplements: lutein/zeaxanthin (10 milligrams/ 2 mg), omega-3 fatty acids (1,000 mg), lutein/zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids, or placebo. Progression to advanced AMD was studied using retina photographs.

Those who took the formulation with plant-derived lutein and zeaxanthin, but not beta-carotene, had an 18% less risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) than those that took the same combination with beta-carotene.  Participants with low dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin at the start of the study, but who took an AREDS formulation with lutein and zeaxanthin during the study, were 25% percent less likely to develop advanced AMD compared with those that had a similar diet, but did not take lutein and zeaxanthin.

It’s possible, say the researchers, that carotenoids may compete with each other for absorption and beta-carotene may mask the effects of lutein and zeaxanthin. But even without beta-carotene, the formula was found to have a protective effect against AMD.

“These results come at a critical time when our population is aging and eye health is a growing concern for many people around the globe,” said president of Kemin Human Nutrition and Health, Jeff Flora. “The number of people diagnosed with early AMD is projected to double by 2020 and a clinical research trail of this size confirms the importance of lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation to patients, supplement manufacturers and eye care professionals.”

While encouraging, the authors of the study noted that the results may not be applicable to the larger U.S. population, for the average dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin is approximately less than 1 mg per day. The subjects in the study consumed a diet high in carotenoids and vegetables.

The new AREDS formulation (with a doctor’s approval) is: 10 mg of lutein, 2 mg of zeaxanthin, 1,000 mg of omega-3s (350 mg DHA and 650 mg EPA), no beta-carotene and 25 mg of zinc.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2013 (online 5/16/13)