Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

Age Related Macular DegenerationAs a person ages it is inevitable that their vision will diminish.  Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), for millions of people over the age of 55, is a more serious condition.  AMD is an irreversible eye disease and ultimately leads to vision impairment and even blindness.

AMD is the number one cause of blindness and visual impairment among elderly white Americans (54% of cases) especially women.  About 2 million Americans have advanced AMD while over 8 million people have intermediate AMD with the risk that the disease will progress to the more advanced stage.  The likelihood of getting this disease increases after the age of 55.

AMD is a progressive disease in which the light and color sensing cells in the macular region of the retina in the back of the eye deteriorate.  As the disease progresses, central vision is lost.  Central vision is responsible for detailed tasks like reading, driving and facial recognition.

There are 2 types of age related macular degeneration:

Dry-This is the most common form of the disease and accounts for 85-90% of all AMD cases.  Dry AMD is defined by a buildup of drusen (yellowish deposits) beneath the retina.  Symptoms of advanced AMD may include spots or holes in the center field of vision or blurred vision.  These blurred spots become bigger and darker as the disease progresses.  Usually dry AMD effect one eye first and then can spread to the next eye.

Wet-This form is a more severe form of AMD with a rapidly worsening loss of vision.  With the wet form of AMD there is a growth of abnormal blood vessels under the macula.  These blood vessels are very fragile.  Damage to the macular happens when these blood vessels leak fluid and blood causing vision distortion and blindness.

There has been much research that suggests that diet and supplements can be influential in eye diseases related to aging like AMD.

ARED-One of the most widely publicized studies relating supplements and AMD was conducted the NEI (National Eye Institute) part of the NIH (National Institute of Health.  Over 4700 people, between 55 and 80 years of age, participated in the study.  Participants received the following antioxidant “cocktail” or a placebo:

Vitamin C (500 MG)

Vitamin E (400 IU)

Beta Carotene (15 MG)

Zinc (80 MG)

Copper (2 MG)

A 25% reduction in risk of developing AMD was seen in individuals who were identified as having a higher risk for the disease.  For those people who already had AMD a reduction in vision loss risk of 19% was seen.

AREDS2-This 5 year companion study began in 2006.  It was undertaken with the idea that by changing the antioxidant “cocktail” the results obtained by AREDS might be improved.  Beta Carotene was removed.  Zinc was removed or reduced and Omega 3 (1000 MG), Lutein (10MG)  and Zeaxanthin (2 MG) were added.  For participants with low dietary lutein/zeaxanthin supplementation a lowered risk of advanced AMD and a reduced need for cataract surgery was seen.   Other prominent studies reinforced the results seen in AREDS2.



Study Links Lutein Levels to Higher IQ

Lutein and Higher IQA new study finds higher levels of MPOD (macula pigment optical density), a measure of Lutein levels in the brain and eye, is associated with higher IQ levels.  Data from the study showed a higher MPOD level was an independent predictor of fluid intelligence, the ability to problem solve in unique situations and to think creatively in regard to everyday challenges, and IQ levels.

114 obese and overweight individuals between the ages of 25 and 45 participated in this study.  Individuals who are overweight and obese are known to be at risk for having a lower MPOD status.

Many studies in children, the elderly, middle age individuals and primates show Lutein’s importance in brain health.  The link between Lutein’s ability to support the eye and the brain is not a surprise since the brain and the eyes are connected.  In recent studies from pediatric brain tissue samples, Lutein made up about 60% of the total carotenoids identified in the brain tissue.  Considering Lutein makes up 12% of the carotenoids found in the diet, a preference for Lutein in the brain seems evident.

Prior studies have also shown higher blood levels of Lutein and Zeaxanthin are associated with better executive function, memory and cognition.

Further studies are needed.



Two Decades of Data and 100,000 Participants Support Role of Lutein-Zeaxanthin in Lowering AMD Risk

Lutein and Age Related Macular DegenerationNew research has found that increased levels of lutein and zeaxanthin are associated with a reduction in the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Over 102,000 people participated in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study which provided over 20 years of data.  Both studies indicated individuals with the highest average plasma levels of lutein/zeaxanthin had 40% reduced risk of developing advanced AMD when compared with individuals whom had the lowest average levels.

AMD effects between 25 and 30 million people worldwide.  In 1994 the first link between in taking foods high in carotenoids (dark green leafy vegetables like spinach) and significant reductions in AMD were established.

The macula is a yellow spot found on the retina.  The macula is yellow because of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin which are derived from foods.  These carotenoids are known to filter harmful light that can cause damage to the rods and the cones which are cells found in the eye.  Maintaining high levels of the macular carotenoids is seen by many health experts as a novel approach to reducing AMD and maintaining healthy vision.



Study Ties Nutrition to Brain Health and Intelligence in Older Adults

Lutein and BrainA new study has found that the pigment found in leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, lutein, may preserve “crystallized intelligence”, the ability to use the knowledge and skills acquired by a person over their lifetime, in older adults.

122 people ranging in age from 65 to 75 years of age participated in this study.  Participants answered questions on standardized tests and solved problems to assess their crystallized intelligence levels.  Blood samples were also taken to determine the blood serum levels of lutein.  MRI’s were used to determine the volume of different brain structures.

Participants with higher serum lutein levels performed better on tests of crystallized intelligence and seemed to have thicker gray matter in the para-hippocampal cortex, a region of the brain that like crystallized intelligence is preserved in healthy aging.  Prior research has shown that lutein actually accumulates in the gray matter of the brain and may actually play a neuroprotective role.

Further studies are planned.


Lutein: For the Brain? Adults and Children May Benefit

Lutein and Brain for Adults and KidsLutein, a carotenoid, is usually associated with its benefits for ocular support.  This carotenoid is commonly found in both vegetables and fruits.  Research supports the role Lutein plays in the retina and its ability to decrease the risk of age related eye diseases.  Currently, Lutein is beginning to be recognized as support for the brain.

Lutein is taken up into brain tissue on a selective basis and is the main carotenoid in adult and infant brains.  Increased levels of Lutein correlate with improve cognitive function in older individuals.  Interestingly enough Lutein concentrations in the macula of the retina correspond with the levels of Lutein found in the brain tissue, and provides a non invasive means to measure Lutein in the brain.  This reinforces research showing increased macular pigment density in adults being significantly associated with improvements in cognitive performance.

Lutein also plays a role on cognition in early life.  Lutein is the preferred carotenoid taken up in cord blood and in breast milk.  Young brains show the ratio of Lutein to total carotenoids to be twice those found in adults which accounts for over half the concentration of total carotenoids.

The increased proportion of Lutein found in young brains suggests Lutein is needed during neural development.  Recent studies in children 8 – 10 years of age, shows macular pigment density was significantly related to academic performance and better memory.

Lutein’s role as an antioxidant and a natural anti-inflammatory may be why Lutein is so important.  In a randomized double blind placebo controlled study in healthy newborns supplementing Lutein significantly increased serum antioxidant activity providing a benefit when in brain tissue.


Lutein Levels Linked To A More Agile And “Youthful” Brain

Lutein and CognitionA new study finds a high intake of Lutein may slow down cognitive decline.

60 healthy adults between the ages of 25 and 45 participated in this study.  Carotenoid levels were assessed by measuring MPOD (Macular Pigment Optical Density), which is considered a trusted indicator of Lutein levels in the brain. Event related brain activity was used as a gauge of cognitive function and was recorded as the participants performed cognitive control testing.  Study results showed MPOD was related to both specific electrical brain activity and age during the decision making process, known as the P3 wave.  Younger adults showed a larger abundance of P3 than the older participants however, the older participants with higher MPOD levels displayed P3 measures equal to the younger participants.  Researchers concluded that Lutein appears to have a protective role in the brain since the study data indicated that participants with more Lutein were able to utilize more cognitive resources to finish their tasks.

Besides being beneficial to brain health, Lutein and Zeaxanthin have been shown to provide support for vision and vision diseases since Lutein appears to accumulate in both the brain and in the eyes.  The ability of Lutein in brain processing, memory, speed and processing is intriguing since Lutein cannot be manufactured on its own in the body.

Further study is warranted.


Lutein and Zeaxanthin Levels Linked to Better Cognitive Function

Lutein and Cognitive FunctionA new study has found that higher blood levels of Lutein and Zeaxanthin may be associated with improved memory, cognition and executive function.  Data from this study found higher Zeaxanthin levels were associated with increased processing speeds and higher levels of both Zeaxanthin and Lutein were associated with enriched scores for many cognitive measures.

Data from over 4,000 adults aged 50 and older was analyzed.  Researchers inferred that a good biological basis exists for hypothesizing that Lutein and Zeaxanthin may be neuroprotective due to their anti inflammatory cell signaling properties and due to their antioxidant properties.

A link between eye health and Lutein was established in 1994 when researchers found a link between the consumption of dark leafy vegetables (carotenoid rich foods) and a reduction in the incidence of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).  Additional studies now support the effects Lutein has on brain health.  Studies show that the carotenoids found in pediatric brain tissue is 60% Lutein yet only about 12% of the carotenoids found in the average diet contains Lutein.  Researchers have concluded that the brain has a preference for Lutein.

More studies are definitely needed.