vitamin D and macular degenerationVitamin D has been extensively studied for bone health, cancer as well as its anti-inflammatory benefits and its role in modulating the immune system. A new study published in JAMA Ophthalmology last week found that vitamin D may play a critical role in eye health in the prevention of age-related macular degeneration, specifically among women who are genetically susceptible. This may have to do with the role of 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 not typically vitamin D. 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 1,230 women ages 54 to 74 who participated in the Carotenoids in Age-related Eye Disease Study (CAREDS). Researchers 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 this as a foreign substance and attacks it. 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 the immune response.

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

By Michael Jurgelewicz, DC, DACBN, DCBCN

Source: Amy E. Millen, Kristin J. Meyers, Zhe Liu, Corinne D. Engelman, Robert B. Wallace, Erin S. LeBlanc, Lesley F. Tinker, Sudha K. Iyengar, Jennifer G. Robinson, Gloria E. Sarto, Julie A. Mares. Association Between Vitamin D Status and Age-Related Macular Degeneration by Genetic Risk. JAMA Ophthalmology, 2015; DOI:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2015.2715

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