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Melatonin Use May Reduce the Risk of Age-Related Vision Loss

Researchers say people over 50 taking melatonin may have a lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of vision loss in older adults.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye condition caused by damage to the macula, a part of the eye responsible for clear central vision. It affects around 11 million people in the United States and is one of the leading causes of blindness in older people.

Symptoms of AMD include blurry or wavy vision when looking straight ahead.

While treatments for age-related macular degeneration are limited, doctors can help slow the progression of the condition by prescribing medications and highly tailored vitamin and mineral supplements.

Recently, scientists from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, questioned whether melatonin — a sleep-regulating hormone available as a dietary supplement — could help prevent or slow the progression of AMD.

Animal studies suggest melatonin has potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and mitochondrial-protective properties. However, levels of this sleep-regulating hormone decline with age, about the same age that AMD typically develops.

To investigate this further, the scientists conducted an exploratory study using 121,523 participants aged 50 or older with no history of AMD. They gathered information on the participants' eye health and melatonin use through medication codes in medical records.

The results, published on June 6 in JAMA Ophthalmology, found that participants who took melatonin had a 58% lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. What's more, among 66,253 participants with preexisting nonexudative AMD, melatonin use was linked to a 56% lower risk of disease progression.

The researchers say that melatonin plays a role in cell regeneration and reduces oxidative stress, which may help protect specific cells in the eye that are vulnerable to damage.

More studies are needed

Despite the encouraging results, the study had several limitations. Specifically, differences in lifestyle habits and engagement with the healthcare system could have influenced the outcome.

Moreover, participants taking supplements like melatonin may be more proactive about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which can reduce the risk of AMD.

In addition, the scientists could not determine how much melatonin the participants used or how often they took it.

Although more studies and clinical trials are needed to confirm the findings, the study's authors say that the results of this investigation provide evidence that melatonin may have potential as a prevention and treatment option for age-related macular degeneration.

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