(NaturalHealth365) As life expectancy increases, cases of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) are on the rise. Currently affecting more than 10 million Americans – with thousands of new cases diagnosed every year – this disease is the leading cause of blindness in people over 65.
ARMD destroys central vision, making tasks such as reading and driving impossible. As the name indicates, the condition worsens with age – in fact, a third of Americans over the age of 75 suffer from ARMD.
Although surgery and drugs can slow vision loss, conventional medicine will tell you there is ‘no cure’ for macular degeneration. Yet, the development of ARMD is not an inevitable part of aging. In fact, holistically-minded physicians say that natural nutrients and phytochemicals can not only slow down the progression of the disease, but help prevent it from occurring in the first place.
What exactly is age-related macular degeneration?
The macula is a spot at the center of the retina, which is located in the back of the eyeball and loaded with light-capturing photoreceptors. ARMD occurs when components of the eye are no longer able to successfully remove waste products, and cholesterol-laden particles known as drusen build up behind the eye and damage the photoreceptors of the macula.
This causes a dark, blurry, or blind spot to appear at the center of your vision, while peripheral vision – the sight from the corners of your eyes – usually remains unaffected.
There are two different types of macular degeneration. About 10 percent of the time, the normal, or “dry,” form of macular degeneration leads to “wet,” or neovascular, macular degeneration. Unlike dry macular degeneration – which progresses gradually – the “wet” form of the disease causes rapid vision loss – and the damage is irreparable. “Wet” macular degeneration accounts for 90 percent of all vision loss from ARMD.
What causes macular degeneration?
Doctors don’t know exactly why some people develop macular degeneration and others don’t. Risk factors include being over age 60, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, heart disease and high cholesterol.
And, yes, heredity can also play a role.
Carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin help to build macular optical pigment density
Carotenoids, the fat-soluble red, orange and yellow pigments found in fruits and vegetables, include beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. These phytochemicals play an essential role in eye health.
Lutein and zeaxanthin naturally accumulate in the central part of the retina, where they assist in seeing colors and fine detail. They also have beneficial antioxidant properties, and help to provide protection against retina-damaging blue light.
Another carotenoid, lycopene from tomatoes, has been scientifically shown to help prevent vision loss, with experts reporting that people with low dietary intake of lycopene have twice the risk of macular degeneration.
Astaxanthin, a red-orange carotenoid found in algae, also is present in non-vegetable sources such as salmon, trout and shrimp, and is responsible for the pinkish color of the tissues. Astaxanthin has been impressing researchers with its ability to prevent UV damage to the retina.
’Age-Related Eye Disease Study’ shows us how to reduce the risk of ARMD
This study, conducted by the National Eye Institute, found that assorted carotenoids and micronutrients reduced the risk of advanced macular degeneration in over 4,700 high-risk patients aged 55 to 80. The AREDS recommendations, established in 2001, consist of a daily regimen of 500 milligrams of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, 15 milligrams of beta-carotene and 80 milligrams of zinc, with 2 milligrams of copper added to avoid deficiency.
University of Maryland Medical Center notes that antioxidants such as these can slow the progression of intermediate macular degeneration and help ward off vision loss.
Five years later, the National Institute of Health revised the AREDS formula to add 10 milligrams of lutein and 2 milligrams of zeaxanthin, along with 1000 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids. Beta-carotene was removed from the recommendation, and the zinc dosage was lowered. Experts say that lutein and zinc may be safer than beta-carotene, which was linked in studies with increased rates of lung cancer in smokers.
The AREDS recommendations are targeted at people who are considered to be at high risk for macular degeneration. Obviously, if concerned, consult with your doctor to determine if the AREDS formula is right for you.
Beneficial carotenoids must be properly broken down to yield maximum benefit
To ensure proper breakdown and delivery of carotenoids, natural health experts suggest taking a digestive supplement such as taurine or lecithin. In addition, you should focus on raising your levels of HDL cholesterol, responsible for transporting lutein and zeaxanthin to the retina. Using olive, flax or coconut oil can help boost HDL levels.
To obtain carotenoids through dietary means, increase your intake of fresh, organic corn, dark leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, and red and yellow vegetables and fruits.
Taurine, a potent antioxidant, helps to rebuild worn-out tissues in the eye
Taurine is already present in high concentrations in the photoreceptor cells of the retina, where it protects from ultraviolet damage and helps to maintain vision. Taurine levels can drop with age, and deficiencies can cause lesions and visual deterioration.
Naturally, taurine supplementation are available and may help protect against age-related deficits.
Ginkgo biloba, a powerful antioxidant, improves arterial blood flow and improves cellular metabolism
Ginkgo biloba has anti-aging properties that may help it prevent degenerative problems in the eye. In a 2002 clinical study published in the German medical journal Wien Med Wochenschr, researchers found that ginkgo biloba extract improved visual acuity in patients with dry senile macular degeneration.
University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) advises dosages of 160 to 240 milligrams a day to help macular degeneration.
Omega-3 fatty acids promote retinal development and repair
According to UMMC, eating fatty fish at least once a week cuts the risk of AMD in half. The National Institutes of Health reports that the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, found in fish oil, is needed for the integrity of retinal cells.
Keep in mind, because of the risk of mercury exposure, be sure to choose your seafood wisely. For some people, it may be best to get your fatty acids in the form of a high-quality fish oil supplement – available in health food stores or online.
Bioidentical hormones are currently a subject of study for possible applications in treating ARMD
According to George W. Rozakis, MD, a biomedical engineer specializing in laser eye surgery, hormonal health and ocular health are linked. Dr. Rozakis says that macular degeneration patients often have low blood levels of DHEA, which can be evidence of suboptimal levels of estrogen and testosterone.
In addition, the retina contains hormone receptors, indicating that hormones play a role in vision. Bioidentical hormones, such as progesterone, may play a role in preventing and treating macular degeneration in the future.
Age-related macular degeneration presents a serious problem, and a threat to the independence of many people, as we age. However, natural substances do exist that can substantially reduce the risk. Of course, as we always say, it’s best to consult with a doctor to arrive at the appropriate dosages for you. If they can’t help you – find another doctor.