written by: Dr Mike C
• edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski
• updated: 3/31/2010
As we grow older, we may experience deterioration in our sight. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of visual impairment in people over the age of 65. This article discusses macular degeneration and naturopathic medicine together with the traditional treatments that can slow its progress.
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What Is Macular Degeneration?
The macular is a region in the centre of the retina, at the back of the eye. It is responsible for our ability to see fine detail at the centre of our field of vision.
Macular degeneration (also called age-related macular degeneration or AMD) is a painless condition where cells in the macula die and this central, fine vision is impaired or even lost completely. As the name implies, AMD is typically found in older people; indeed, it is the principle cause of loss of vision in people over the age of 60. Central vision is critical for functions such as reading, driving and seeing objects clearly. The disease can develop so slowly that the deterioration is not noticed until later stages when the impairment is obvious, or it may manifest more rapidly. Older people should have thorough, regular eye examinations to ensure that the disease is detected as early as possible, if they are unfortunate enough to develop it. Macular degeneration and naturopathic medicine may seem odd bedfellows; however, some of the treatments proposed by naturopaths are endorsed by classical medicine.
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Wet And Dry AMD
AMD exists in two forms: “wet” and “dry”; the latter affects 85% of sufferers, according to the US National Eye Institute. In wet AMD, the condition is due to the formation of abnormal, new blood vessels which disturb the position of the macula on the retina. The blood vessels are often weak and leak blood or fluid within they eye. The onset can be rapid – a cardinal symptom being that straight lines are seen as being wavy. Patients should see an ophthalmic specialist without delay to get a proper diagnosis and minimise permanent damage.
In dry AMD, the disease progresses slowly. It will affect both eyes, but vision may be affected worse in one eye than the other. The symptoms include blurred vision, needing more light to do a task than before and difficulty in recognising faces. A number of yellow deposits, called drusen, can be observed following the onset of AMD and these can be detected at an ophthalmic investigation. This permits action to be taken which will slow the progression of the disease.
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Origin Of AMD
According to the National Eye Institute, USA, the cause of AMD is uncertain. It is believed that genetic factors (family history of the disease) have a role, together with ethnicity; the prevalence is much higher in white people than in the African American community. AMD is more prevalent in women than men. Lifestyle factors such as obesity, diet and smoking may also be implicated, but the greatest risk factor is age.
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Traditional Medical Treatment For Macular Degeneration
Currently, traditional medicine has no cure to offer for sufferers of AMD to restore impaired vision, although some treatments are available which can slow the progression of the disease. Wet AMD can be treated by laser surgery to destroy the abnormal vessels perturbing the macula (it may need to be repeated). It may also be treated with vertepofin, a light sensitive drug which is administered by injection and slows the rate of deterioration. Alternatively, drug can be injected directly into the eye which inhibits a growth factor associated with the abnormal vessels.
Dry AMD can be treated (in its earlier stages) with certain minerals and anti-oxidants.
The cocktail contains elevated amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene (vitamin A), zinc oxide and copper oxide.
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Naturopathic Treatment Of AMD
With respect to the treatment of macular degeneration and naturopathic medicine, it seems some commonality of approach exists. The naturopathic community suggest that the best way to treat AMD is with food supplements. Copper and zinc supplements have been identified as being valuable in the treatment of AMD; certainly both elements are known to mainstream science as essential trace metals and are obtained from a normal diet. Also, they advocate consumption of anti-oxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin E (see the section on traditional treatment above).
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has also been claimed to help restore the vision of AMD patients. This treatment involves placing the subject in a high pressure chamber in an oxygen atmosphere.
Once source claims that smoking is the leading, preventable cause of AMD – whilst they produced no supporting evidence to back-up this claim, stopping smoking is always a good move!