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Diet Supplements Evaluated for Blindness Prevention

Several research centers across the United States are studying whether or not dietary supplements help prevent age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in older adults.

A previous study concluded that supplements with antioxidants and zinc reduced the risk by about 25 percent.

Now, retina specialist Raj Apte at the Washington University School of Medicine is looking for benefits from fish oils and supplements like lutein and zeaxanthin, which naturally occur in the retina. "There is some preliminary and anecdotal data suggesting that these carotinoids, or macular pigments, may be protective against progression of certain eye diseases."

Researchers plan to study 4,000 elderly patients with signs of macular degeneration in one or both eyes. Apte stresses that they are only looking at people who already have signs of the disease in either one or both eyes.

He says younger people who don't have the disease should not take the supplements. "I would not recommend considering high-dose supplementation, because there is no evidence at this point that taking high-dose supplements delays onset of the disease."

The National Eye Institute-funded trial will follow the elderly patients for at least five years.