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B Vitamins Reduce Risk of Age-Related Vision Loss

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Tuesday, February 24, 2009 11:24 AM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Protecting Your Family, B Vitamins, Macular Degeneration


IMAGE SOURCE: iStockPhoto / author: Sugar pond

Taking B vitamins could lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common affliction and accounts for most cases of blindness over the age of 60. The disease destroys sharp, central vision which is needed to see objects clearly and to do tasks such as reading and driving.

As one ages, the center of the eye, the macula area of the retina, thins out. That can mean an inability to read or see far distances.

“This is the first randomized trial to suggest a possible benefit of folic acid, B-6 and B-12 vitamin supplements in reducing the risks of age-related macular degeneration,” says study author William Christen, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

AMD is caused by damage to the arteries that carry blood to the retina. Vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid may lower the risk for the disease, Christen said, because they lower blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that adds to plaque buildup in the arteries.

Christen and his colleagues collected data from a cardiovascular disease trial that involved more than 5,200 women who did not have macular degeneration at the start of the study.

For the study, women were randomly assigned a placebo or a daily combination of B6, B12 and folic acid supplements. They also answered questionnaires over a seven year period to track pill adherence and development of new diseases.

At the end of the study, there was 82 confirmed cases of AMD in the placebo group and 55 confirmed cases in the vitamin group.

The vitamin group had a 41 percent lower risk of being diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration. While the study involved women, researchers say, the findings will most likely apply to all older Americans.

An estimated 1.75 million Americans have an advanced form of AMD, while another 7.3 million have an early form, which is associated with little or no vision loss. If the study findings can be replicated, this would be the first treatment to help prevent age-related macular degeneration, the study authors wrote.

“These findings are the first to suggest a possible early prevention measure,” Christen says.

More research is needed, largely to determine the amounts of vitamins required to benefit eye health. The doses taken during the study period were higher than recommended daily doses, says Christen.

The study, paid for by the National Eye Institute, appears in this week's Archives of Internal Medicine. #

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