Vitamin supplements containing antioxidants are an effective - and cost effective - way of halting the progression of degenerative eye disease. [Photo: Bigstock]

Supplements beat drugs for preventing vision loss

13 September, 2017

Natural Health News Vitamin supplements containing antioxidants are an effective – and cost effective – way of halting the progression of a particular type of degenerative eye disease.

The study, published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, looked at the ‘wet’ form of age related macular degeneration.

In ‘wet’ AMD, abnormal blood vessels grow underneath the retina. These vessels can leak fluid and blood, which can damage the macula – the part of the retina responsible for central vision.

But the drugs currently used to ‘wet’ AMD are expensive and have been linked to heightened risk of inflammation of the inside of the eye (endophthalmitis) and possibly stroke as well.

So the researchers set out to discover if commonly available eye health supplements could provide real world benefits for both patients and the health service.

Seeing the data clearly

What you need to know

» Large-scale clinical trials have shown that combinations of zinc and antioxidants can help prevent and slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

» A new analysis has shown that supplements are a better choice than conventional drugs, even for hard to treat ‘wet’ AMD.

» The cost savings to the NHS for using supplements to treat wet AMD would be £131 million per year.

Data from the two Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) trials formed the basis of the study.

In the first AREDs trial the supplement used contained 500 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, 15 mg of beta-carotene; 80 mg of zinc and 2 mg of copper. In the second trial, AREDS2, the supplement studied contained 500 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, 10 mg lutein and 2 mg zeaxanthin, 80 mg of zinc and 2 mg of copper.

Both formulations have been shown to be effective and are commercially available from a variety of manufacturers.

The researchers’ analysis of the AREDS trials showed that both formulations are cost effective for treating patients with early stage ‘wet’ AMD and potentially preventing it’s spread beyond one eye.

They then turned their attention to the cost-effectiveness of supplement over conventional drugs. Over the course of a lifetime, the researchers calculated that people with wet AMD would need nearly eight fewer injections of conventional drugs into their eye. This represents a cost saving to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) of nearly £3000 per patient – adding up to around £131 million a year.

In addition, these patients would gain additional time lived without impaired vision and therefore have a better quality of life.

NHS should fund vitamin treatment

Given the costs and side effects of the current range of drugs used to treat the ‘wet’ form of age related macular degeneration, the NHS should fund this treatment in people who already have the condition in one eye, say the researchers.

The greatest cost benefit would be for people with ‘wet’ AMD in one eye and would depend on sufferers sticking to the supplement regimen in order to stave off vision loss in the second eye.

While there would still be savings to be made by giving supplements to people with intermediate stage wet AMD in both eyes, the argument for funding them for people with the condition in one eye is strongest, they say.

The study concludes that “supplements are a dominant cost-effective intervention” for ‘wet’ AMD and recommends that “as they are both less expensive than standard care and more effective, and therefore should be considered for public funding.”