Age-Related Macular Degeneration & Supplements

I’m dedicating this to some family members who have age-related macular degeneration (AMD).  AMD is a disease that strikes older adults and results in vision loss in the macula, the center of the retina.  According to the National Eye Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 years and older.

Normal Vision

Two Types:
There are two forms of this disease: “dry” and “wet.”  In the dry form, also known as central geographic atrophy, the macula typically degrades gradually, so people may not realize that their vision is being impaired.  While the most common symptom of the dry form is blurred vision in the center of the field of vision, according to the “Dry macular degeneration” article on the Mayo Clinic website, a person may notice the following changes:

  • The need for increasingly bright light when reading or doing close work
  • Increasing difficulty adapting to low light levels, such as when entering a dimly lit restaurant
  • Increasing blurriness of printed words
  • A decrease in the intensity or brightness of colors
  • Difficulty recognizing faces
  • A gradual increase in the haziness of your overall vision
  • The same image as viewed by someone with age-related macular degeneration

    A blurred or blind spot in the center of your field of vision

  • Hallucinations of geometric shapes or people, in cases of advanced macular degeneration

The “wet” form, also known as neovascular or exudative AMD, according to the Wikipedia article, occurs rapidly and causes blindness due to abnormal blood vessel growth under the macula.  “Bleeding, leaking, and scarring from these blood vessels eventually cause irreversible damage to the photoreceptors and rapid vision loss if left untreated.”

According to the “Wet macular degeneration” article on the Mayo Clinic website, a person may notice the following changes:

  • Visual distortions, such as straight lines appearing wavy or crooked, a doorway or street sign looking lopsided, or objects appearing smaller or farther away than they really are
  • Decreased central vision
  • Decreased intensity or brightness of colors
  • Well-defined blurry spot or blind spot in your field of vision
  • Abrupt onset
  • Rapid worsening
  • Hallucinations of geometric shapes, animals or people, in cases of advanced macular degeneration

I’ve read many articles over the last few months about the importance of the proper diet and supplements to prevent or lessen the problems with age-related macular degeneration, just like most other diseases.  Dr. James A. Howenstine, a board certified specialist in internal medicine, wrote an article on age-related macular degeneration, which echos the thoughts by other doctors and researchers.  In “Heal Macular Degeneration,” Dr. Hownestine talks about the importance of a diet low in glycemic carbohydrates.  Foods, like sugar, grains, potatoes, bananas, etc., that cause rapid rises in blood sugar create metabolic wastes (free radicals) that damage the macula.  He cites a study that showed people who ate leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, collards, etc. had a 43% lower risk of AMD than the group eating the lowest quantities of leafy greens.  These vegetables are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin that, according to the doctor, “filter out harmful wave lengths of light” that damage the eye.  Dr. Hownestine also suggests eating fish several times a week and taking daily supplements, such as vitamins C and E, beta carotene, zinc, and copper.

In addition to these supplements, it’s becoming clear how important Vitamin D, actually a hormone, is in preventing many diseases, including age-related macular degeneration.  In a study published in Archives of Ophthalmology in April 2011, showed that higher blood levels of Vitamin D may protect against early AMD in women younger than 75 years.  Women who received the most Vitamin D had a 59% lower risk of the disease.

As with adding any supplement to your diet, talk to your physician first.  Taking too much of a supplement can be just as problematic as not enough.  Also, some supplements react with certain medications.


  1. Thank you for posting this. I work in a research lab at Wash. U. Sch. of Medicine. While I agree that eating a healthy diet rich in antioxidants is so important in lowering general disease risk, AMD risk is more complex. Smoking and inheritance increase the risk of AMD significantly. It has recently been discovered that proteins involved in autoimmunity are also involved. If they are defective, there may be an increased risk. Thank you for bringing awareness to this horrible disease. Through research in this area we may bring about an end to it’s progression.

  2. Paula, thanks so much for the wonderful information and smoking and autoimmune problems!!! 🙂 I hadn’t seen an autoimmune component for AMD before. I’m finding that so many of our health issues have an autoimmune basis. Thanks so much for the fantastic research you are doing!!! 🙂

  3. Linda, I had Jane, Tom, and John in mind when I wrote this, although I don’t remember which type of AMD Tom has.

  4. Doreen, thanks for posting that great information on diet and macular degeneration. It comes from very solid research showing that people who consume lots of veggies, fruit and fish have less macular degeneration than those who have a poor diet. The high glycemic diet connection is also well supported. The Vitamin D news is recent and still needs more work, but it did show that women with high levels of Vitamin D in their blood had a 59% reduced risk of AMD when they got older. It didn’t show it helped if you already have AMD.

  5. Thanks, Judi, for the great information and for supplying a link to I don’t believe I linked to this website in my article, but it’s a great resource.