Melatonin May Reduce Risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration, New Study Suggests
Melatonin May Reduce Risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration, New Study Suggests

By George Citroner

A nightly sleeping aid could be moonlighting as a guardian of your future sight.

As the specter of age-related macular degeneration (AMD)—a progressive and currently incurable condition that, without treatment, can result in permanent vision loss—looms, researchers have stumbled upon an ally in the battle against blindness: melatonin.

Large US Study Findings Show Reduced Risk of AMD

Researchers analyzed data from the TriNetX database, a national network of electronic health records, that covered electronic medical records of over 121,500 people aged 50 or older across the United States with no history of AMD. The participants had used melatonin medication in November 2008 and November 2023.

Melatonin exposure was defined as at least four recorded instances of use, each occurring at least three months apart. Specific dosages were not specified in the study.

The findings, published in JAMA Ophthalmology, suggest that those who took melatonin were 58 percent less likely to develop AMD.

AMD occurs when damage to blood vessels affects the center of the retina (macula). It comes in two forms: dry or early-stage AMD, involving retinal abnormalities or waste buildup, and wet or late-stage AMD, including death of retinal cells or abnormal blood vessel growth in the macula.

Early AMD symptoms include blurred or distorted vision. In advanced stages, central vision may be severely impaired.

Among more than 65,000 participants who already had dry AMD, melatonin use was linked to a 56 percent reduced risk of the disease progressing to late-stage (wet) AMD.

These benefits were consistent across all age groups, suggesting melatonin’s potential protective effects even in older, high-risk populations.

The results build on previous evidence from a prospective study in China, which linked melatonin supplementation to slower progression of macular damage and visual acuity (how clear vision is at a distance) decline in AMD patients. Previous research has also suggested that melatonin may protect ocular tissues by reducing free radical production and pro-inflammatory mediators such as cytokines secreted by cells in the eye.

Expert Urges Caution in Interpreting Melatonin–AMD Link

The new study doesn’t definitively prove melatonin is responsible for improved eye health, Dr. Khurram Chaudhary, vitreoretinal surgeon and director of Retina Service at Stony Brook Medicine, told The Epoch Times.

The researchers noted that melatonin users might generally have healthier lifestyles, which could contribute to reduced disease risk.

What this study does is introduce “the idea that this medication can prevent or slow down macular degeneration,” Dr. Chaudhary said. It paves the way for future prospective, double-blind studies to determine if there’s a substantial difference in disease progression between patients taking melatonin and those who aren’t, he noted.

There Is Already a Supplement to Treat AMD

Previous research has identified a combination of nutrients linked to AMD prevention and symptom improvement.

According to Dr. Chaudhary, clinical trials by the National Eye Institute show that AREDS 2 supplements may slow AMD progression, especially in those with intermediate AMD.

These supplements contain vitamins C and E, minerals like copper and zinc, beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

Melatonin Shows Promise for Other Eye Conditions

A 2023 study published in Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy suggests melatonin supplementation might significantly reduce the risk of cataracts by inhibiting UV light damage to the eye’s lens.

Cataracts, cloudy areas in the eye’s lens, are the leading cause of reversible blindness worldwide. This age-related condition reduces vision sharpness and causes symptoms like double vision, light sensitivity, fading or yellowing of colors, and difficulty seeing in low light.

Melatonin also shows promise in treating dry eye disease, a common condition in which the eyes don’t produce enough tears to stay properly lubricated. Researchers observed increased tear production and clinical improvements after injecting melatonin in mice with this condition. These findings indicate melatonin’s potential to protect human corneal cells through its antioxidant properties.

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