Science Update

Vitamin D and its role in macular degeneration

Vitamin D has been extensively researched for its benefits in bone health cancer inflammation and the immune system. A new study published in JAMA Ophthalmology last week found that vitamin D may be a critical player in eye health in the prevention of age-related macular degeneration specifically among women who are genetically susceptible. This may have to do with its role in inflammation which is believed to be involved in the development of macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration is characterized by the deterioration of the macula which is a small part of the retina where the eye's photoreceptors are most concentrated. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss more than cataracts and glaucoma combined.

In this study the research team found that women who have a vitamin D deficiency and a specific high-risk genotype are 6.7 times more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration than women with sufficient vitamin D levels and no high risk genotype.

Most of us think of antioxidants such as vitamin A C E zinc lutein and zeaxanthin for macular degeneration and do not typically reach for vitamin D. Yet we now see that adequate vitamin D status may be another nutrient to add to the list.

This is the first study that looked at the interaction between genetic risk and vitamin D status in age-related macular degeneration. In addition this demonstrates how we may have an epigenetic influence in the prevention of the disease.

Researchers investigated data compiled on 1230 women ages 54 to 74 who participated in the Carotenoids in Age-related Eye Disease Study (CAREDS). They were able to determine participants' vitamin D status by analyzing 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] levels.

People who have early stage age-related macular degeneration develop drusen which are lipid and protein deposits that build up in the eye. The body sees these as a foreign substance and attacks them. Patients with certain gene variants have a more aggressive immune response. As a result vitamin D may be protective due to its anti-inflammatory properties and by reducing their overactive immune response.

This study supports vitamin Ds role in eye health. However this does not mean very high levels of vitamin D are warranted here but having a vitamin D deficiency may be unhealthy for the eyes and increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration.

By Michael Jurgelewicz DC DACBN DCBCN