We know from previous research that many things that are good for your heart are also good for your eyes. Heart-healthy habits such as exercise, consuming a healthy diet with colorful fruits, vegetables and leafy greens, eating omega 3-rich fish, and limiting saturated fats, are important for preventing or slowing age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
But can heart disease treatments such as aspirin and statins also help protect against AMD?
Recent research published in Ophthalmology1,2 the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, took a look at the two popular treatments and AMD risk and disease progression.
Since it is known that low-dose aspirin substantially reduces the risk of serious blood vessel blockage, researchers thought it might affect the blood vessels that play a role in AMD. Aspirin also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects that could be potentially relevant.
More than 39,421 people participated in the 10-year Womens Health Study (WHS) and their records were evaluated to access the impact of low-dose aspirin on AMD risk. At the start of the study, none of the women had AMD. They were randomly assigned to take low-dose aspirin (100 mg on alternate days) or a placebo.
The risk of developing "vision-impacting" AMD was reduced by18 percent in women who took low-dose aspirin. During the 10 year study, 245 AMD cases developed, 111 in the aspirin group and 134 in the placebo group. "Vision impact" was defined as a reduction in visual acuity to 20/30 (about 6/9 in meter charts) or worse due to AMD.
"Although our study found no large benefit from low-dose aspirin, the possible modest protective effect we did find warrants further study," said lead researcher William G. Christen, ScD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA. "If future studies confirm our findings, it could be important to make the public aware of this benefit," he added.
In the largest study to date regarding statin use by patients with advanced AMD, researchers followed 744 patients enrolled in the Complications of Age-Related Macular Degeneration Prevention Trial (CAPT) for five or six years. Statin drugs are primarily used to lower cholesterol, but they also affect mechanisms thought to impact AMD, including reduction of the inflammatory marker known as C-reactive protein. Earlier studies on statins' effects had been inconclusive. All patients from the CAPT cohort study were at risk for advanced AMD, but none had developed advanced "dry" or "wet" AMD at baseline.
"The CAPT data did not support a large effect for statins in decreasing advanced AMD risk in patients who already had large drusen in both eyes," said lead researcher Maureen G. Maguire, PhD, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Pennsylvania. Drusen are yellowish deposits which are a potential sign of AMD. Statin users were at slightly higher risk than non-users for developing advanced AMD, she said.
Dr. Maguire said several factors may be masking a protective effect for statins, the most important being that most patients who take statins for cardiovascular disease are also already at high risk for AMD. Only a randomized controlled trial could reveal statins' impact on AMD in the wider population, but since so many elderly people take statins it could be difficult to recruit a control group. It is also possible that statins may need to be taken for longer than the CAPT study's timeframe to show a protective effect, she added.
Both studies were supported by the National Eye Institute.
AMD Alliance International recommends checking with your eye doctor and your primary care physician regularly to determine the best treatment plan for you and before initiating any new treatments or medicines.
1. Christen/Buring, Ophthalmology, 2009 December
2. McGuire, Dai, Ophthalmology, 2009 December
AMD Alliance International is the only international organization in the world dedicated exclusively to promoting awareness, treatment and research into macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in the developed world. With more than 60 members in 23 countries, AMDAI is a membership organization comprised of the worlds' leading vision and research organizations. For more information, visit www.amdalliance.org.
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