Several studies have looked at the value of lutein for macular degeneration. One research group refers to it as “anti-aging ophthalmology”. They group it with lifestyle related diseases. It does seem that unhealthy eating habits and other lifestyle factors, such as smoking, increase the risk, but there are genetic factors that come into play as well. Researchers first began to look at lutein and macular degeneration, because the antioxidant is one of the components of a healthy retina.
The retina is light sensitive tissue that lines the inner surface of the eye. The macula is a tiny spot within the retina that is responsible for central vision. Light striking the retina causes a cascade of chemical and electrical events that eventually send signals to the visual centers of the brain. Doctors recommending lutein for macular degeneration do so because some studies have found that taking it and other antioxidants reduce the risk of blindness from the “dry” type of the disease.
While there is no conclusive evidence linking low blood levels of lutein and macular degeneration, it has been noted that there is a lower concentration of both lutein and zeaxanthin in the retinas of people with the disease. Until recently, this could only be measured post-mortem, but one research group has found a way to measure zeaxanthin concentration. So, it may soon be possible for ophthalmologists to measure the antioxidant concentration in their offices and be able to make specific recommendation.
A six year study conducted at the National Eye Institute in Maryland draws the strongest connection between lutein and macular degeneration prevention. Doctors concluded that it does, in fact, protect against blindness, but they also included zeaxanthin in the nutritional formula that was given to patients.
You might be wondering why there is so much excitement about lutein for macular degeneration treatment. But, if you have any familiarity with the disease, you know that there are currently no effective treatments. Loss of central vision is the usual result and it affects 1.2 million Americans.
In addition to lutein and macular degeneration, anti-aging ophthalmology researchers have also looked at the value of fish oil, the antioxidant Astaxanthin and a variety of other “food factors” that they believe should be recommended for early intervention. Basically, it is the fish, fruit and vegetable diet that keeps people healthy.
Taking lutein for macular degeneration prevention may be a good idea. But, if you are over the age of 40 and haven’t always followed the fish-fruit-vegetable eating plan, you need more help.
There may not be a strong connection between low levels of lutein and macular degeneration in the elderly. But studies have shown that there is a strong connection between high levels of total antioxidants and “no” macular degeneration. The antioxidants studied were those that are found in the traditional Japanese diet.
The best suggestion for everyone is to find and take a good multi-nutritional supplement that contains a variety of plant extracts, including lutein, zeaxanthin, Astaxanthin, beta-carotene and green tea extract. A good omega 3 supplement (fish oil) is also important. Omega 3 fatty acids are another component of a healthy retina. Increasing total antioxidant intake will do more than taking lutein for macular degeneration, alone.