Expert Q&A

Vitamin A: Can it help macular degeneration?

I have macular degeneration. Should I get more vitamin A?

-Kathy from Vermont

When dealing with a health problem, it’s best to ask your doctor for specific recommendations for your individual situation. Too much vitamin A is toxic to the liver, skin and mucus membranes. However, your question is a good one. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can lead to significantly impaired vision or blindness. The current belief is AMD is caused in large part by inadequate nutrients, specifically those which build up protective compounds in the eye.

The retina is the part of the eye that receives light on specialized nerve cells called rods and cones. While these cells are designed to receive light impulses, they can be damaged from too much ultraviolet (UV) light. Smoking and not using sunglasses accelerate this UV damage.

Pigment found in front of the cells acts like internal sunglasses to shield the cells from too much UV. Dark green vegetables and egg yolks have nutrients that increase this pigment. Red, yellow and orange vegetables and fruits contribute nutrients that act as antioxidants protecting against light damage to the retina. Vitamins A, vitamin C and vitamin E may provide added antioxidant protection along with selenium, magnesium and zinc plus vitamin B6 and folic acid.

The problem is that supplementing one’s diet after the development of AMD may not help reverse it, although supplements are often prescribed to slow the process. The best way to avoid AMD is to eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of colors of vegetables and fruits starting before age 50 (ideally starting in childhood), avoid smoking entirely and to wear UV protecting sunglasses particularly in summer in northern latitudes and year round in southern latitudes.

John Messmer, MD
Contributing Expert

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