When it comes to eye health, there is no such thing as a fix-all for any and all problems that people face when it comes to eyes. Maintaining proper eye health requires a multifaceted approach; supplements alone cannot be relied upon. One must exercise regularly and stick to a healthy diet on top of certain supplements to lower their chances of developing age-related macular degeneration and other diseases.
That being said, there are plenty of eye health supplements on the market that claim to do a lot of things. Is there any rhyme or reason that differentiates these supplements? If so, which one is the best option?
As I began doing research, I quickly found that the science has not been settled on a lot of big-name brands of eye health supplements. From an abundance of misleading claims and varying nutritional recipes, this quest to dive into eye health supplements revealed a bit of a minefield that I was not expecting, however headlong into the mire we must go.
Several studies have been done by the National Eye Institute (https://nei.nih.gov/) to test the effects of antioxidants and zinc on the progression of AMD and cataracts. In 2001 the first age-related eye disease study (AREDS) showed that after five years of supplementation with high doses of antioxidant vitamins (vitamins C and E and beta-carotene), copper, and zinc generally reduced the risk of developing AMD in about thirty percent of people in the study who took the supplements, of whom already had existing moderate to advanced dry or wet AMD.
In 2013, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) attempted to find some improvements and safer variations of antioxidants and vitamins. The study found that lutein and zeaxanthin (antioxidants found in dark green leafy vegetables) were a suitable replacement for beta-carotene, which is not found to increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers. In conclusion AREDS2 found that the original formula of five hundred milligrams (mg) of vitamin C, four hundred international units of vitamin E, eighty mg of zinc as zinc oxide, and two mg copper as cupric oxide (to avoid anemia with high zinc intake) with the addition of 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin to be the most effective formula in helping to prevent the later stages of AMD.
So what does this have to do with popular eye supplements? Well an article published by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (https://www.aao.org/) found that of eleven popular eye supplements that are sold to Americans, seven deviate from the formulas proven effects by AREDS and AREDS2 and that all eleven of these supplements have misleading claims. Researchers found that of the eleven supplements analyzed, all of them did have the ingredients from the AREDS and AREDS2 formulas, only four had the right doses, another four contained lower doses than recommended and another four added additional vitamins, minerals, and herbal extracts extraneous to the AREDS and AREDS2 formulas.
The study also found that “while all 11 of the products' promotional materials contained claims that the supplements ‘support,’ ‘protect,’ ‘help,’ or ‘promote’ vision and eye health, none had statements specifying that nutritional supplements have only been proven effective in people with specific stages of AMD.” What this means is that these supplements are marketed as effective for anyone who wants to slow the process of AMD when AREDS and AREDS2 was only conducted and proven effective in those with specific stages of AMD. None of these supplements also had statements clarifying that there is not sufficient evidence to support the effectiveness of routine use of supplements for primary prevention of AMD, cataracts, and other diseases in people who are not currently experiencing stages of AMD.
Author of the article Jennifer J. Yong, MD, write that their findings “underscore the importance of ophthalmologists educating patients that they should only take the proven combination of nutrients and doses for AMD according to guidelines established by AREDS and AREDS2. It's also crucial," she concludes, "that physicians remind patients that, at this time, vitamins have yet to be proven clinically effective in preventing the onset of eye diseases such as cataracts and AMD."
Even after all of this research, scientists are still not completely certain how big of a role genetics played in the prevention of later stages of AMD in their AREDS and AREDS2 clinical trials. So essentially even the research that tried to find the most effective formula of antioxidants and vitamins to prevent later stages of AMD in certain individuals who already were experiencing signs of AMD cannot be considered one hundred percent conclusive, simply because they do not know the effect that genetics played on their results. It is a complicated situation. So for brands of eye supplements to make claims that their products can slow the progression of AMD and do not qualify their statements that the effects of AREDS2 formulas are still technically inconclusive is misleading marketing and simply a false claim.
So remember that these types of supplements to delay the progression of AMD, cataracts, and other ocular diseases are only effective if you meet the right requirements. In order to find out whether or not this applies to you, be sure to make frequent visits to your eye doctor or other professional and have yearly dilated pupil examinations. In the ends the only effective way to possibly slow the progression of AMD and other ocular diseases are to adhere to a healthy regiment of diet and exercise, control how much blue light your eyes consume, practice eye stress-relieving techniques, and visit your eye doctor or other eye health professional frequently. And if they want to prescribe you a certain medication, be sure to ask if you meet all of the requirements for it to be effective.
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Article from American Academy of Ophthalmologists about the misleading information of popular eye supplements: https://www.aao.org/newsroom/news-releases/detail/top-selling-eye-vitamins-found-not-to-match-scient
Results from AREDS: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00000145
Results from AREDS2: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00345176
Further reading: https://www.visionaware.org/blog/visionaware-blog/new-research-top-selling-eye-supplements-lack-scientific-evidence-and-make-unsupported-claims-1666/12