Macular degeneration associated with age and drusen, an important cause of severe visual loss in older persons, is of unknown cause. The sensory retina and retinal pigment epithelium, which are cell layers in zinc, appear to be prominently involved in the disease process. Because zinc plays a role in the metabolic function of several important enzymes in the chorioretinal complex, we undertook a prospective, randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled investigation of the effects of oral zinc administration on the visual acuity outcome in 151 subjects with drusen or macular degeneration. Although some eyes in the zinc-treated group lost vision, this group had significantly less visual loss than the placebo group after a follow-up of 12 to 24 months. This is the first controlled oral intervention study to show a positive, if limited, treatment effect in macular degeneration, a major public health problem. Because of the pilot nature of the study and the possible toxic effects and complications of oral zinc administration, widespread use of zinc in macular degeneration is not now warranted.