Antioxidants for eye disease better and cheaper than drugs

Image of an eye

Extra nutrition in the form of antioxidants and minerals is an inexpensive and effective way to stop the development of degenerative eye disease AMD, according to research published in the journal British Journal of Ophthalmology.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) causes the yellow spot in the eye to be damaged and is the most common cause of severe visual impairment in the western world.

There are two variants of AMD, wet and dry, where the former is the more difficult form. In wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels form under the macula – the part of the retina that is responsible for visual acuity in the middle of the field of vision. The abnormal vessels leak fluid and blood below the retina, resulting in swelling and scarring that gradually destroys the macula. The visual acuity then deteriorates. An important warning signal is that straight lines look crooked. If the process continues, and the macula is completely destroyed, you can go blind. 

Several studies over the years have shown that wet AMD is possible to influence through diet and nutritional supplements. At the same time, the drugs used for wet AMD are expensive and have been associated with increased risk of inflammation of the eye’s internal tissues (endophthalmit) and possibly even stroke.


The NHS should fund treatment with dietary supplements

Therefore, a research group has analyzed two major studies of wet AMD and dietary supplements to evaluate possible cost benefits with the supplements. As a result, researchers now recommend that the British healthcare system National Health Service should fund early AMD treatment with anti-oxidants, as well as the zinc and copper minerals.

“Given the risks and costs of the drug, preventive treatment against worsening of wet AMD appears to be an attractive strategy,” they write.

The statement is based on analyzes of data from the two AREDS and AREDS 2 (Age Related Eye Disease Study) as well as treatment costs and AMD incidence in people over 55 in UK.

In the first ARED study conducted in 1992-1998 in the United States, 3,640 men and women aged 55-80 years received daily vitamin C (500 mg) antioxidants, vitamin E 400 IU plus beta-carotene (15 mg) and / or the minerals zinc (80 mg as zinc oxide) plus copper (2 mg as copper oxide) or placebo.

In AREDS 2 which was conducted from 2006 to 2012 involved 4203 men and women aged 50-85 years. In addition to nutrients included in the first ARED study, two groups of these participants also received daily supplements of antioxidants lutein (10 mg) plus zeaxanthin (2 mg) and/or omega-3 fatty acids DHA (350 mg) plus EPA (650 mg). Here, beta-carotene was replaced which was included in the first study of lutein and zeaxanthin. In total, there were four food supplements and a control group.


Lutein and zeaxanthin more effective than beta-carotene

The results of the new analysis shows that daily supplementation with high doses of antioxidants plus zinc and copper reduced the risk of deterioration of wet AMD in its early stages, and especially for those who only had the disease in one eye. However, the combination of lutein and zeaxanthin in AREDS 2 was more effective than only beta carotene in AREDS1. 

According to the cost estimates, the UK healthcare system could save almost 3,000 pounds per patient on using dietary supplements instead of current drugs. This means an annual saving of around 13 million pounds ($ 17,415,995).

“AREDS-additions is a highly cost-effective treatment for patients with an early stage of the disease, because dietary supplements are both cheaper and more effective than standard care,” says the research team.




EurekAlert!. Antioxidant/zinc supplement cost saving and effective for degenerative eye disease. Pressmeddelande 2017-08-23.

The study:
Lee AY, Butt T, Chew E, Agron E, Clemons TE, et al. Cost-effectiveness of age-related macular degeneration study supplements in the UK: combined trial and real-world outcomes data. Br J Ophthalmol. 23 aug. 2017.