Daily B-vitamins Offers Hope in Reducing Risk of Eye Disease

Vitamin B Food and Eye Health
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William Christen, Sc.D., of Brigham and Women's Hospital, and colleagues reported in the Feb. 23 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine that daily B-vitamin and folic-acid supplements reduced the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in women.

Age-relate macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease associated with aging that gradually destroys sharp, central vision. AMD affects the macula which is the part of the eye that is responsible for fine detail. AMD affects the central vision which is needed for seeing objects clearly and for common daily tasks such as reading and driving. AMD causes no pain.

AMD is the leading cause of severe irreversible vision loss in Americans 60 years of age and older. It is estimated 1.75 million individuals in the United States have advanced AMD. An additional 7.3 million persons have early AMD, which is usually associated with little or no vision loss, but increases the risk of developing advanced AMD.

For those with early AMD, the only known method of disease prevention has been avoidance of cigarette smoking.

It is hopeful that the researchers are able to report B-vitamin supplements reduced the risk of visually significant macular degeneration by 41%. The vitamins looked at in the study included vitamin B6 and B12 (pyridoxine hydrochloride and cyanocobalamin) and folic acid.

The findings come from the Women's Antioxidant and Folic Acid Cardiovascular Study (WAFACS) which is a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial whose main goal was to see if the combination treatment could prevent cardiovascular events among women at high risk for cardiovascular disease.

The WAFACS study included 5,442 female healthcare professionals 40 or older who had pre-existing cardiovascular disease or at least three cardiovascular disease risk factors.

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These women were randomly assigned to get a daily vitamins (2.5 milligrams of folic acid, 50 milligrams of vitamin B6, and one milligram of vitamin B12) or matching placebos.

At the beginning baseline, 5,205 of these participants did not have a diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration. These women included in this analysis.

The findings are "the strongest evidence to date in support of a possible beneficial effect" in prevention of the condition, the researchers said.

After an average of 7.3 years of treatment and follow-up, there were 55 cases of AMD in the combination treatment group and 82 in the placebo group. There were nearly twice as many who developed visually significant AMD in the placebo group (44) as compared to the vitamin group (26).

This is the first study of this kind that looks at vitamin supplements for prevention of eye disease. The findings will need to be confirmed by future studies. Still it offers hope.

Sources
Folic acid, pyridoxine, and cyanocobalamin combination treatment and age-related macular degeneration in women: The Women's Antioxidant and Folic Acid Cardiovascular Study; Arch Intern Med 2009; 169(4): 335-341; Christen WG, et al

National Eye Institute

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