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An Update on Eye Health and Nutraceuticals
The positive effects of neutraceuticals on eye health have been the subject of discussion and research for many years. One of the pivotal arguments is the increased enrichment of certain carotenoids in the macula lutea of the retina (the yellow spot). There is a great deal of evidence that these carotenoids have a key role not only in optimum function but also in preventing age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Given that AMD is the most common age-related eye disease and the leading cause of blindness in the elderly, it is easy to see why this is so important to public health care.
The recently published second Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS-2) unfortunately showed no clear benefits of nutritional supplements, but it has to be remembered that this study took a therapeutic approach and not a prophylactic one (subjects already had AMD) (1). Viewed as a positive result, however, supplements reduced the risk of advanced AMD by 26% and the necessity of cataract surgery by 32% in participants who consumed the smallest quantities of lutein and zeaxanthin in their normal diet (2). This result shows the typical pattern of supplementation being particularly effective in situations where deficiency exists.
Carotenoids have also been investigated with respect to optimal visual acuity, something that is extremely important, although certainly not exclusively, to sport. More recent studies indicate that, in addition to lutein and zeaxanthin, the carotenoid meso-zeaxanthin is an integral component of the macula. Supplementation studies with all three carotenoids have already shown advantages over dual combinations (3). The ongoing Central Retinal Enrichment Supplementation Trial (CREST), sponsored by the EU, is addressing the issue (4). Results are expected in 2015.
(1) The AREDS2 Research Group. Lutein + Zeaxanthin and Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Age-Related Macular Degeneration: The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) Randomized Clinical Trial.JAMA. 2013;309(19):2005-2015.
(2) The AREDS2 Research Group. Lutein/Zeaxanthin for the treatment of age-related cataract. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2013 May 5:1-7. [Epub ahead of print].
(3) Connolly EE, Beatty S et al. Supplementation with all three macular carotenoids: response, stability, and safety. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2011 Nov 29;52(12):9207-17.