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February 1994

Are Antioxidants or Supplements Protective for Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Author Affiliations

From the Dana Center for Preventive Ophthalmology, The Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Md (Drs West, S. Bressler, and N. Bressler and Mss Vitale and Muñoz); the Beltsville (Md) Human Nutrition Center (Dr Hallfrisch); and the Gerontology Research Center, Francis Scott Key Hospital, National Institute on Aging, Baltimore (Mr Muller).

Arch Ophthalmol. 1994;112(2):222-227. doi:10.1001/archopht.1994.01090140098031

Objectives:  The relationships between fasting plasma levels of retinol, ascorbic acid, α-tochopherol, and β-carotene and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) were studied in a population enrolled in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA), in which most of the data were collected 2 or more years before assessment of macular status.

Design:  A total of 976 participants in the study were scheduled for a biennial examination from January 1988 through January 1,1990, which included taking lens and macular photographs. A total of 827 (85%) of the participants had fundus photographs taken, and most plasma data were available for 82% of those subjects with fundus photographs. Age-related macular degeneration was defined as neovascular changes, geographic and nongeographic atrophy, large or confluent drusen, or hyperpigmentation. A total of 226 cases of AMD were available for analysis.

Results:  Logistic regression analyses suggested that α-tocopherol was associated with a protective effect for AMD, adjusted for age, sex, and nuclear opacity. An antioxidant index, including ascorbic acid, α-tocopherol, and β-carotene, was also protective for AMD. Our conclusions must be tempered with the knowledge that the population under study was basically well nourished, and few individuals had any clinically deficient status. The study cannot exclude the possibility that quite low levels of micronutrients, lower than those observed in this study, might be risk factors for AMD.

Conclusions:  The data suggest a protective effect for AMD of high plasma values of α-tocopherol. An antioxidant index, composed of plasma ascorbic acid, α-tocopherol, and β-carotene, was also protective. The use of vitamin supplements to prevent AMD is not supported by these data, which showed no protective effect of vitamin use.