Friday 8 September 2017

Antioxidants effective against macular degeneration

The treatment of macular degeneration with injections is expensive and there are numerous side effects. Ophthalmic research published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology suggests an inexpensive and effective alternative for wet macular degeneration: supplementation with antioxidants, copper and zinc.


Since 2011, the ageing of the population has been accelerating. The prognosis is that up to 2040 there will be a continual rise in inhabitants aged 65 or older [1]. But what about the health of this group of people?


Today, anyone aged 65 or older has a longer healthy life expectancy than in the past, but will have a higher number of years of chronic illnesses. Since the 1980s, this expectancy has reduced from 6.9 to 3.8 years [2]. Nevertheless, life expectancy without chronic illnesses is low: in men an average of 47 years and in women 40.7 years [3]. One of these chronic illnesses that those aged 65 or older are more likely to suffer from is ‘wet’ macular degeneration.


Eye injections

Wet macular degeneration is an eye disease where new blood vessels grow beneath the retina and leak blood and fluid, which cause damage to retinal cells. This results in a gradual deterioration of the sight, which limits the quality of life. The eye injections given to inhibit progression of the disease are unpleasant and are also expensive. There are also significant side effects, including inflammation of the inside of the eye.


Research published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology has now revealed that there is a cheaper and effective alternative, with no side effects: supplementation with antioxidants, copper, and zinc [4].


Age-Related Eye Disease Study

The researchers base their findings on the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS).  This reveals that daily supplementation with high-dose antioxidants plus copper and zinc lower the risk of developing wet macular degeneration. The antioxidants used were lutein, zeaxanthin and/or beta carotene.


The treatment is most effective in people in whom the disease is at an early stage. The success of treatment is greater when macular degeneration has been found in just one eye as opposed to both eyes.


Fewer injections required

The researchers calculated that the patients who received supplements required eight fewer injections per course of treatment. These patients also live for longer with good vision. Prevention is, of course, better than cure, "because of the burden and costs of the treatment, prevention of macular degeneration is an appealing strategy to reduce the chronic and expensive eye injections and retain sight”.


But patients must remember to take the supplements, say the researchers.






[4] Aaron Y Lee et al. Cost-effectiveness of age-related macular degeneration study supplements in the UK: combined trial and real-world outcomes data, British Journal of Ophthalmology (2017).