AREDS Vitamins and Dry AMD

The AREDS vitamin formulation can be of benefit to some people with dry AMD (age-related macular degeneration), the most common form of the disease. But there are a lot of misconceptions around AREDS, and what it can and cannot do.

In 2001, the National Eye Institute in the United States conducted a nationwide vitamin clinical trial called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) with some notable results. The study tested a special high-dose formulation of the antioxidant vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and zinc and found that people at high risk of advanced dry AMD lowered their risk of progressing to the advanced stage – and experiencing further vision loss – by 25 per cent by taking the formulation.

Those at high risk of the advanced form of dry AMD include people with intermediate dry AMD in both eyes or people with advanced dry AMD in one eye but not the other. (There are three “stages” of dry AMD: early, intermediate and advanced.)

Currently, there are no cures for dry AMD, and the AREDS formulation is the only treatment available, so it is highly recommended if you are at risk for the advanced form of the disease.

The formulation consists of:

  • 500 mg of vitamin C
  • 400 International Units of vitamin E
  • 15 mg of beta-carotene (often labeled as equivalent to 25,000 International Units of vitamin A)
  • 80 mg of zinc as zinc oxide
  • 2 mg of copper as cupric oxide

Note that the vitamin and mineral levels in the AREDS formulation are so high that they cannot be achieved through diet or regular vitamin supplements alone. The AREDS formula is available over-the-counter in pharmacies.

AREDS is not for everyone. The study also found that patients in the early stages of dry AMD did not show any signs of improvement on AREDS. Also, people with a history of smoking are advised not to take beta-carotene, which can increase your risk of lung cancer. There are special AREDS formulations available without beta-carotene. The AREDS formula will also not be of benefit to people with wet AMD. Only patients in the intermediate to advanced stages of dry AMD may experience a reduction in the further progression of the disease.

The National Eye Institute is currently conducting a follow-up trial called AREDS2, which will refine the findings of the original study by adding lutein and zeaxanthin (plant-derived yellow pigments) and the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA (derived from fish oils) to the AREDS formulation. The main objective is to determine if these nutrients will further decrease a person's risk of progression to advanced AMD. Previous observational studies have suggested these nutrients may protect vision.

If you have dry AMD (or are not sure what type of AMD you have), speak to your eye doctor about whether AREDS is right for you. For more information on AREDS, see http://www.nei.nih.gov/amd.