The macula is the part of the eye that allows us to see detail in the center of our vision ﬁeld. When the macula breaks down or is damaged, ﬁne work like reading, sewing, and painting becomes difﬁcult or impossible. Small objects—stitches on fabric, for example, or type on a page—may look wavy or bent, and there may be dark spots over the item you’re trying to see. This visual impairment begins at the center of the vision and, if not halted, will slowly expand toward the periphery. In the United States, mac- ular degeneration is the leading cause of serious visual impairment in people over ﬁfty- ﬁve, and in those sixty-ﬁve and older, it is the second-highest cause of blindness, next only to cataracts. There are two kinds of macular degeneration: atrophic (or “dry”) and neovascular (“wet”). Atrophic is by far the more common of the two and accounts for 80 to 95 percent of all cases. Although its effects usually don’t show until a rela- tively advanced age, atrophic macular degeneration happens over a lifetime, as cel- lular debris gradually accumulates under the retina. No one knows exactly why this debris builds up, but it is thought that damage by free radicals (the unbalanced mol- ecules that damage cells), along with inadequate supplies of blood and oxygen to the macula, play a signiﬁcant role. Although no conventional treatment exists, many alter- native therapies can halt and possibly reverse the retinal damage by ﬁghting free rad- icals and improving circulation.
Neovascular macular degeneration isn’t actually degeneration at all. Instead, it is caused by an abnormal growth of blood vessels under the retina. If these blood ves- sels leak, the ﬂuid can scar the macula and impair central, detailed vision. Unlike atrophic degeneration, this form of the disease can frequently be reversed with laser treatment, as long as it’s caught early enough. It can often be prevented altogether, with the same alternative therapies used to treat atrophic degeneration.
Major conventional risk factors for macular degeneration include smoking, ather- osclerosis, aging, and high blood pressure. Research in recent years has proven that diet is a critical element in the prevention of this disease. A diet that’s high in cho- lesterol and saturated fat appears to increase susceptibility, while a diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, and ﬁsh is protective. Carotenoids, found in fruits and particularly in vegetables, are quite protective antioxidants against macular damage from sunlight. A holistic approach also considers the role of inefﬁcient digestion and absorption, which can contribute to mineral deﬁciencies that play a role in this disease. Also, toxic metals can increase free radical damage of the macula and the eye and should be dealt with, if a problem. Finally, several nutritional supplements, especially minerals and carotenoids, have proven to be effective in the prevention and the treatment of mac- ular degeneration.
If you experience any kind of blurred vision, do not attempt to diagnose yourself. See a physician or an eye doctor to rule out an underlying disorder; if you do have macular degeneration, your doctor should run a test to discover whether you are affected by the atrophic or neovascular form. And since both kinds of macular
degeneration—as well as many other eye problems—can be detected by a doctor long before the symptoms appear, you should always have regular eye exams, especially if you’re age ﬁfty-ﬁve or older.
• Blurring, distortion, or dark spots at the center of the vision ﬁeld, especially when looking at detail.
Anything that causes free radical damage or poor circulation can contribute to mac- ular degeneration, including the following:
• A diet that’s low in antioxidants,which ﬁght free radical damage
• Arteriosclerosis (hardening of arteries)
• High blood pressure
• Exposure to ultraviolet light
• Environmental toxins (particularly toxic metals)
• Poor digestion and detoxiﬁcation
• Nutritional deﬁciencies
The following tests help assess possible reasons for macular degeneration: Blood pressure
Hormone testing (thyroid, DHEA, cortisol, testosterone, IGF-1, estrogen, progesterone)—saliva, blood, or urine
Vitamin and mineral analysis (especially zinc, carotenoids, vitamins E and
Digestive function and microbe/parasite/candida testing—stool analysis
Toxic metals (mercury, lead, arsenic, etc.)—hair or urine
If you have arteriosclerosis or high blood pressure, see the relevant entry for additional
dietary recommendations. Reducing the blockage or the pressure in your arteries will also improve the circulation of blood and oxygen to your eyes.
Keep toxins moving quickly through your body by eating plenty of ﬁber, especially whole grains and beans.
Water will also help ﬂush away toxins and keep the eye tissues supple. Drink a glass of clean water every two waking hours.
Consume your carotenoids, which are fruits and vegetables that ﬁght free radicals. Good sources include dark leafy greens, spinach, collard greens, kale, bell peppers (all colors), yellow squash, carrots, tomatoes, celery, oranges, red grapes, mangoes, and melons.
Vitamin C and bioflavonoids work together against free radicals; they also strengthen the capillaries and the tissues of the eye. Eat red, blue, and purple fruits and vegetables—berries, cherries, tomatoes, and plums—for bioﬂavonoids, and enjoy citrus fruits as a source of vitamin C.
Food to Avoid
Stay far away from foods that contain free radicals. Fats that are saturated, hydro- genated, or partially hydrogenated are the worst offenders in the American diet, but caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and charred or grilled meats are also sources of these disease- causing molecules.
A three-day juice fast will help clear the build-up from your system. You’ll eliminate many of the toxins that are linked to free radical damage; in addition, your blood will ﬂow more freely, allowing for a better supply of oxygen and nutrients to your eyes. You can use a wide variety of juices for a fast, but be sure to include those made from several of the fruits and vegetables listed previously.
Super Seven Prescriptions—Macular Degeneration
Super Prescription #1 Lutein
Take 15 mg daily with a meal. It prevents oxidative damage of the macula.
Super Prescription #2 Zeaxanthin
Take 3 mg daily with a meal. It prevents oxidative damage of the macula.
Super Prescription #3 Betaine hydrochloride
Take 1 to 3 capsules with each meal or as directed by a health-care professional. This supplement increases stomach acid for the improved absorption of nutrients, especially minerals.
Super Prescription #4 Zinc
Take 45 mg daily, along with 2 mg of copper. Zinc is required for proper vision and is an antioxidant, which was shown in studies to help macular degeneration.
Super Prescription #5 Ginkgo biloba
Take 120 mg twice daily of a product standardized to 24 percent ﬂavone glycosides. Ginkgo improves circulation and has potent antioxidant effects. One study found it helpful for early-stage macular degeneration.
Super Prescription #6 Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
Take 240 to 600 mg a day of a standardized formula containing 25 percent antho- cyanosides.
This herb contains ﬂavonoids—phytochemicals that protect the eyes against oxidative damage. It also strengthens the capillaries and the connective tissues of the eye.
Super Prescription #7 High-potency multivitamin
Take a high-potency multivitamin. It provides a base of antioxidants and nutrients for eye health.
Tne study involved over 3,600 people, ages 55 to 80 years, who were at risk for age-related macular degeneration. Those who took antioxidants plus zinc were less likely than those who took only antioxidants or only zinc to lose their vision over the six- year study. Individuals who took a placebo were the most likely to develop advanced age-related macular degeneration and vision loss.
survey of 876 elderly individuals found that people whose intake of lutein and zeaxanthin was in the top 20th per- centile were 56 per- cent less likely to have age-related macular degeneration, as com- pared with people who had a low intake of these two carotenoids.
double-blind trial found that supplementation with 45 mg of zinc daily for one to two years signiﬁcantly slowed the rate of visual loss in people with macu- lar degeneration.
Fish oil contains DHA, which is concentrated in the retina of the eye. The consump- tion of ﬁsh has been shown to reduce the risk of macular degeneration. Take a ﬁsh oil product containing 1,000 mg of DHA daily.
Vitamin E-complex acts as an antioxidant and has been shown to improve vision in people with age-related macular degeneration. Take 400 IU daily with a meal.
A mixed carotenoid complex contains a blend of carotenoids that protects against ultraviolet light damage. Take 25,000 IU twice daily.
Digestive enzymes improve digestion and absorption. Take a full-spectrum com- plex with each meal.
Grapeseed extract or maritime pine bark extract scavenges free radicals from the eye and the brain and improves circulation. Take 150 to 300 mg daily.
Taurine is an amino acid that is believed to protect the retina from ultraviolet light damage. Take 500 mg twice daily on an empty stomach.
Homeopathy may be helpful for macular degeneration. See a homeopathic practitioner for a constitutional remedy.
See pages 668–675 for information about pressure points and administering treatment.
Work Large Intestine 3 and 4 to improve circulation to your head.
An all-over massage will improve circulation and help deliver oxygen to all parts of the body, including the eyes.
Work the eye/ear area of the foot, which is located at the base of the toes.
Alternating hot and cold cloths to the eyes will improve circulation.
General Stress-Reduction Therapies
Vision problems can be alarming and discouraging. Cope with the stress by setting aside time to relax every day.
Bach Flower Remedies
According to Bach remedy theory, eye disorders are caused by blindness to reality, but if none of the following remedies suit your needs, Once you’ve selected the appropriate remedy, place 10 drops of the liquid under your tongue. Hold them in place for thirty seconds and swallow. Use as often as needed.
Clematis is for dreamy people who live a world of their own making.
If you prefer to relive days gone by instead of facing the present, Honeysuckle will help.
For vague fears that you can’t or won’t confront or face head-on, take Aspen.
• Smoking is a potent way to deliver free radicals to your body. If you smoke, stop. If you don’t, protect yourself from secondhand smoke.
• Regular, moderate exercise will help keep your blood ﬂowing properly to the eyes.
• Protect your eyes from the sun. In bright light, wear sunglasses that ﬁlter out
98 percent of the ultraviolet spectrum.
• For advanced cases of macular degeneration, consider a nutrition-oriented doc- tor who uses intravenous vitamin and mineral therapy.