Objective: To investigate relationships between levels of tocopherols and carotenoids in the serum and age-related macular degeneration (ARMD).
Design: A nested case-control study within a population-based cohort.
Participants: Cases included a sample of subjects with retinal pigment abnormalities with the presence of soft drusen (n = 127) or with late ARMD (geographic atrophy [n = 9]) or neovascular and exudative macular degeneration (n = 31). An equal number of controls (167 pairs) were selected from among participants in the Beaver Dam Eye Study. The controls had no photographic evidence of soft drusen, retinal pigment abnormalities, or late ARMD and were matched with cases for age, sex, and current smoking status.
Data collection: Presence and severity of ARMD were determined from masked grading of fundus photographs obtained from 1988 to 1990. Levels of individual carotenoids and tocopherols were determined in serum collected at the same time.
Results: Average levels of individual carotenoids were similar in cases and controls. Average levels of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) were lower in people with exudative macular degeneration (P = .03). However, the difference was no longer statistically significant after controlling for levels of cholesterol in the serum. Persons with levels of lycopene, the most abundant carotenoid in the serum, in the lowest quintile were twice as likely to have ARMD. Levels of the carotenoids that compose macular pigment (lutein with zeaxanthin) in the serum were unrelated to ARMD.
Conclusions: Very low levels of one (lycopene) but not other dietary carotenoids or tocopherols were related to ARMD. Lower levels of vitamin E in subjects with exudative macular degeneration compared with controls may be explained by lower levels of serum lipids.