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“Eye Vitamins” and You

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Whether shopping online or walking through your local pharmacy, the number of products advertising various health benefits can be overwhelming. So, do you need to be taking any vitamins for your eye health, and if so, which ones?

Whether shopping online or walking through your local pharmacy, the number of products advertising various health benefits can be overwhelming. So, do you need to be taking any vitamins for your eye health, and if so, which ones?

Prior to starting any supplements, you should consult with your eye provider and primary care doctor regarding the pros and cons. You also should not overlook the value of first leading a healthy lifestyle when considering adding a vitamin supplement. A balanced diet rich in green leafy vegetables, regular exercise, smoking cessation (if applicable), and limited exposure to ultraviolet light can have beneficial effects for your eyes and the rest of your body.

Who should be taking “eye vitamins”?

Studies have shown that vitamin supplementation in patients with the dry form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can delay disease progression. AMD affects the central vision and is a leading cause of blindness in individuals over 50 years old. A baseline dilated eye exam by your eye doctor will help determine whether you are at risk and if vitamin supplementation is warranted. It is important to note that nutritional supplements are not a cure for AMD, but rather a means for slowing progression of the disease to more advanced forms.

Which vitamins should you take?

The particular combination of vitamins and minerals studied is referred to as the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) formulation, which is shown below:
Vitamin C (500 mg)
Vitamin E (400 IU)
Lutein (10 mg)
Zeaxanthin (2 mg)
Zinc (80 mg)
Copper (2 mg)
Consumers should look for products that are consistent with AREDS2 formula and carefully review product labels to verify the ingredients and dosages. 

What are some of the risks?
Earlier AREDS formulations included beta-carotene, which was subsequently replaced with lutein and zeaxanthin due to an increased rate of lung cancer in smokers and former smokers. As such, patients with a smoking history should not take supplements containing beta-carotene.

High doses of Vitamin E have been associated with an increased risk of death, which is why it is necessary to confirm the amount of each ingredient in the product you are using, particularly if you are taking multiple supplements. It is important to note that there was no increase in death for those receiving Vitamin E in the AREDS trial.

Overall, AREDS2 vitamins are generally very safe and well-tolerated. As with any medication or supplement, there exists the potential for adverse effects. If you experience any concerning side effects once you begin taking a new supplement, contact your health provider immediately.

Dr. Alexander Barnes is a retina specialist at Florida Retina Institute. He received his doctorate from Tufts University School of Medicine, completed an ophthalmology residency at Cleveland Clinic Foundation, and completed a fellowship in vitreoretinal surgery at Emory University. For more information, visit FloridaRetinaInstitute.com.

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