Observational and experimental data suggest that antioxidant and/or zinc supplements may delay progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and vision loss.
To evaluate the effect of high-dose vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc supplements on AMD progression and visual acuity.
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study, an 11-center double-masked clinical trial, enrolled participants in an AMD trial if they had extensive small drusen, intermediate drusen, large drusen, noncentral geographic atrophy, or pigment abnormalities in 1 or both eyes, or advanced AMD or vision loss due to AMD in 1 eye. At least 1 eye had best-corrected visual acuity of 20/32 or better. Participants were randomly assigned to receive daily oral tablets containing: (1) antioxidants (vitamin C, 500 mg; vitamin E, 400 IU; and beta carotene, 15 mg); (2) zinc, 80 mg, as zinc oxide and copper, 2 mg, as cupric oxide; (3) antioxidants plus zinc; or (4) placebo.
Main outcome measures:
(1) Photographic assessment of progression to or treatment for advanced AMD and (2) at least moderate visual acuity loss from baseline (> or =15 letters). Primary analyses used repeated-measures logistic regression with a significance level of.01, unadjusted for covariates. Serum level measurements, medical histories, and mortality rates were used for safety monitoring.
Average follow-up of the 3640 enrolled study participants, aged 55-80 years, was 6.3 years, with 2.4% lost to follow-up. Comparison with placebo demonstrated a statistically significant odds reduction for the development of advanced AMD with antioxidants plus zinc (odds ratio [OR], 0.72; 99% confidence interval [CI], 0.52-0.98). The ORs for zinc alone and antioxidants alone are 0.75 (99% CI, 0.55-1.03) and 0.80 (99% CI, 0.59-1.09), respectively. Participants with extensive small drusen, nonextensive intermediate size drusen, or pigment abnormalities had only a 1.3% 5-year probability of progression to advanced AMD. Odds reduction estimates increased when these 1063 participants were excluded (antioxidants plus zinc: OR, 0.66; 99% CI, 0.47-0.91; zinc: OR, 0.71; 99% CI, 0.52-0.99; antioxidants: OR, 0.76; 99% CI, 0.55-1.05). Both zinc and antioxidants plus zinc significantly reduced the odds of developing advanced AMD in this higher-risk group. The only statistically significant reduction in rates of at least moderate visual acuity loss occurred in persons assigned to receive antioxidants plus zinc (OR, 0.73; 99% CI, 0.54-0.99). No statistically significant serious adverse effect was associated with any of the formulations.
Persons older than 55 years should have dilated eye examinations to determine their risk of developing advanced AMD. Those with extensive intermediate size drusen, at least 1 large druse, noncentral geographic atrophy in 1 or both eyes, or advanced AMD or vision loss due to AMD in 1 eye, and without contraindications such as smoking, should consider taking a supplement of antioxidants plus zinc such as that used in this study.