Beta-Carotene Pills May Not Help Eyes
Study: Supplement May Not Prevent Age-Related Macular Degeneration
March 14, 2007 -- You may not want to count on beta-carotene pills to
prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
A new study in Archives of Ophthalmology shows that healthy men
taking beta-carotene pills for 12 years were as likely to develop age-related
maculopathy (ARM), which includes AMD, as men not taking beta-carotene
AMD is America's leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 13
million people in the U.S. It's uncommon in people younger than 55.
AMD targets the macula, a part of the retina that enables you to read, watch
TV, drive, sew, or do anything else that requires focused, precise vision. AMD
gradually damages the macula.
Vitamin and Vision Study
The new study included about 22,000 apparently healthy U.S. male doctors who
were 40-84 years old at the study's start.
The researchers -- who included William Christen, ScD, of the division of
preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston -- randomly split
the men into two groups.
One group of men was assigned to take a pill containing 50 milligrams of
beta-carotene every other day. The other group received a sham pill (placebo)
containing no beta-carotene.
The men were followed for 12 years. Most took their pills dutifully during
that time. Every year, they updated their medical history.
The men didn't have to get their eyes examined for the study, but the
researchers did try to confirm reported ARM diagnoses.
At the end of the study, 162 men in the beta-carotene group and 170 in the
placebo group had developed ARM. The difference between the two groups was so
small that it could have been due to chance.
During the study, the men in the placebo group were allowed to take their
own vitamins if they wanted to. Nearly 6% of the men in the placebo group took
vitamins containing beta-carotene. That probably didn’t skew the results, the
The findings held when Christen and colleagues adjusted for the men's age
and other risk factors.
Long-term use of beta-carotene supplements doesn't raise or lower the odds
of developing ARM, the researchers conclude.