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Vitamin D May Help Prevent Vision Loss in Women

Eating fresh water fish or drinking a tall glass of soymilk daily could cut your risk for vision loss later in life. According to a new study led by Amy Millen, Ph.D., of the University at Buffalo in New York, maintaining an adequate level of vitamin D can significantly reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in women. The details of the study were recently published in the medical journal Archives of Ophthalmology.

AMD is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness among Americans aged 65 and older. The condition is caused by degeneration of the macula (the part of the retina responsible for the precise, central vision necessary for such activities as reading and driving) that leads to central vision loss. It is estimated that about 1.75 million Americans currently suffer from advanced AMD, and that the number of people diagnosed with the condition will reach nearly 3 million by 2020.

For their study, Millen and her colleagues examined data from the Carotenoids in Age-Related Eye Disease Study (CAREDS), a part of the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study in which the women were screened for the levels of vitamin D in their bodies. Vitamin D status was assessed using the blood measure of 25-hydroxyvitamin D or 25 (OH) D. This level is generally considered the means by which nutritional vitamin D status is defined. The analysis included data on 1,313 women ages 50 to 79.

Findings showed that among women aged 50 to 74 an increased intake of vitamin D from foods and supplements combined was associated with 59 percent decrease in the likelihood of developing early age-related macular degeneration. Overall, 241 of the women developed early AMD, while 26 developed advanced disease.

A strong note of interest is that the results of the study revealed that it was not exposure to the sunlight that decreased the risk of AMD, but food sources rich in vitamin D such as milk, fish, omega 3 fish oils, fortified cereals, fortified margarine, and other dairy products. In addition, the researchers found that the lowest risk of AMD was observed among women who consumed 720 international units (IU) of Vitamin D per day, which exceeds the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation for an intake of 600 IU daily.

The study findings confirm the link between high vitamin D concentrations and early AMD found in a previous analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). However, further investigation into the effects of genetics and lifestyle factors on the study results are warranted. The authors acknowledged, “More studies are needed to verify this association prospectively as well as to better understand the potential interaction between vitamin D status and genetic and lifestyle factors with respect to risk of early age-related macular degeneration.”

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