Genetic Swab Test Can Help Doctors Determine if AREDS Supplements Helpful or Harmful
The AREDS supplement was beneficial for most patients, but almost 15% did worse with treatment than with placebo. –Carl Awh, MD
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of legal blindness in people over 55 in the US.
The MDA cites mixed reviews on the supplement, which is known medically as the AREDS formulation and goes by many brand names. In studies published in the journal Ophthalmology, genetic test results suggested that AREDS could help about 35 percent of patients, while accelerating vision loss for 13 percent. (Ophthalmology, November, 2013 http://www.aaojournal.org/article/S0161-6420(13)00679-9/abstract) A non-zinc formula is available for the latter group.
“AREDS supplements have been shown to benefit the average patient with moderate macular degeneration, but our research suggests that this average benefit is the result of significantly different individual responses,” says Carl Awh, MD, a retina specialist from Nashville, Tenn. “The AREDS supplement was beneficial for most patients, but almost 15% did worse with treatment than with placebo. This adverse outcome appears to be due to the high-dose zinc component of the AREDS formulation. More research is indicated but, in the meantime, I perform genetic testing to select the optimal nutritional supplement for each patient.”
“What we’re recommending is an abundance of caution and an informed dialogue between patients and their doctors,” says MDA founder and chairman Lawrence Hoffheimer, a retired healthcare attorney and federal prosecutor whose mother suffered from the disease. “This supplement can be very helpful to some patients, but if there’s a likely possibility that zinc can accelerate vision loss, and a simple genetic test can determine if a patient may be at risk, it makes sense to consider the test.”
Hoffheimer acknowledges that there is only one provider of the personalized genetic test, which costs about $500.00, is accepted by many insurers, and requires a prescription from an ophthalmologist or optometrist for the cheek swab and processing. The test was developed by a Canadian company, ArcticDx, which processes samples in its lab in Grand Rapids, MI. We at the Macular Degeneration Association are working tirelessly to advocate coverage of the test by Medicare. To stay informed on the latest developments regarding Medicare coverage, sign up HERE
“We are not supporting ArcticDx specifically. However, they are currently the only provider for this particular test,” says Hoffheimer.