AREDS2: The Age Related Vision Study Follow-up

Optimal vision is maintained by a healthy nutrient-rich diet that includes consuming five or more servings of colorful fruits and vegetables daily, along with a minimum of three servings of hearty whole grains and beneficial nuts or oils. But today's diets may not deliver enough nutrition. You don't want to miss a thing, so selecting the right dietary supplements designed to support eye health is crucial.

The US Government's AREDS2 study is now investigating which of these eye vitamins may best benefit your visual health now and in the future.

You may know someone with Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), a deterioration of clear central sight that affects millions of Americans. This growing epidemic prompted the government's National Eye Institute (NEI) to launch the Age-Related Eye Disease Study(AREDS) in October, 2001. The result was groundbreaking research that led to significant findings in treating and preventing AMD.

The AREDS study concluded that a supplemental combination of antioxidants and zinc decreased the risk of developing later stages of AMD by 25%. Researchers found that this combination also reduced the chances of losing central vision by 19%.

The NEI later suggested that if eye vitamin supplementation were in widespread use, it could actually prevent vision loss in as many as 300,000 people aged 55+ over a five-year period. With those results, the NEI was more than happy to get to work on:

In 2006, the AREDS2 follow-up study began. The goal? To determine if an altered combination of select nutrients can slow AMD-related loss of vision even further. Researchers are hoping to unveil their findings in 2013, but we do know that the study focuses particularly on the antioxidant carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

Actually, the NEI had considered including both lutein and zeaxanthin in the original AREDS study -- but at that time, neither was available for manufacturing in a research formulation.

Between AREDS and AREDS2, the Lutein Antioxidant Supplementation Trials (LAST) were completed. These trials gave an early indication that the NEI was correct in its desire to investigate lutein. LAST found that lutein significantly improved the macular pigment density that protects the macula from degeneration. Zeaxanthin was similarly backed by research suggesting it helps to protect the macula from dangerous UVB rays from the sun.

The Omega-3s EPA and DHA have also been shown to help with AMD. One massive study of 72,000 male and female nurses and doctors over age 50 found that those who ate four servings of Omega-3-rich fish per week had 35% less development of AMD.

Clearly, the NEI knew what it was doing when it selected lutein, zeaxanthin, EPA and DHA for its AREDS2 study. Only the most promising eye health nutrients -- as well as the antioxidants that were so successful in the first AREDS study -- warrant government-funded investigation.

If you want the AREDS2 eye vitamins, but don't want to wait until 2013 for the AREDS2 study results, you're in luck: the NEI has already shared the formula. AREDS2 is studying the following nutrients in these exact levels:

  • Vitamin C - 500 mg
  • Vitamin E - 400 IU
  • Beta-Carotene - 15 mg [AREDS2 is testing without this too]
  • Zinc - 80 mg
  • Copper - 2 mg
  • Lutein - 10 mg
  • Zeaxanthin - 2 mg
  • DHA - 350 mg
  • EPA - 650 mg

Those in anticipation of positive AREDS2 results should look for eye health supplements that supply the above nutrients in these exact levels. AREDS2 supplements that mirror the study's formulation are also available. To ensure quality nutrition that delivers the best possible vision benefits, look for supplements that feature:

  • Lutein nutrition that comes from marigold flowers. Marigold is the preferred source for high-quality, bioavailable lutein.
  • DHA and EPA Omega-3s sourced from small cold-water fish like sardines. Smaller fish contain less mercury and contaminants. Regardless, look for fish oil brands that have been purified or "molecularly distilled" to remove any potential toxins or heavy metals.

Always talk to your doctor before taking supplements. A good eye doctor can help you choose eye vitamins that best suit your needs. If you are a smoker, please be aware that Beta-Carotene may increase your risk of lung cancer. There are eye health supplements that are formulated especially for smokers; you may wish to investigate these.


Lutein and Zeaxanthin -- AREDS2 featured nutrients explained in more detail

NEI AMD Page -- Background info on AMD straight from the National Eye Institute

AMD Facts -- AMD stats, symptoms, research and photos

AREDS2 Summary -- An outline on AREDS2 from the National Institutes of Health

AREDS2 Protocol -- The exact research protocol of the AREDS2 study. Link opens a PDF.