"There's nothing more that can be done," a phrase both patients and docotors are all too familiar with in regards to macular degeneration, an eye disease that commonly strikes elders.
Unfortunately it's true, there is no medical treatment for the "dry" type of macular degeneration, and many know that treatment options are still quite limited for those with the "wet" form of the disease. So what is there to do?
"Plenty,"says Dr. Richard J. Shuldiner, a low vision optometrist who, like me, works with people with sight loss. "The name of the game is prevention or arresting the progression, and there are a number of things that a person can do for themselves."
For years anecdotal evidence of nutrition's role in the prevention and treatment of disease has surfaced, and now double blind medical studies are proving the effectiveness of nutritional medicine as a critical piece of the puzzle in treating chronic macular degeneration.
In October 2001 the National Eye Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, published the Age Related Eye Disease Study, which stated unequivocally that nutritional supplementation is an effective therapy against macular degeneration.
The results came from a seven- year double-blind study conducted by the NIH at five medical centers across the United States. It clarifies that proper nutritional support can help protect us from diminishing eyesight and degenerative ocular complications as we grow older. According to the study, the following vitamins should be included in your nutritional supplement:
Vitamin A - The first vitamin ever discovered, hence its name. Protects cells against free radical damage as an antioxidant and aids in night vision: Recommended dosage: 10,000 IU Vitamin A & 18,640 IU beta carotene.
Vitamin C - An antioxidant that helps prevent oxidative damage to the macula as well as the lens of the eye. Orange juice is also an excellent source for this vital nutrient: Recommended dosage: 452 mg.
Vitamin E - The third critical antioxidant helps protect and enhance cell membranes of the eyes against free radicals (Note: The American Heart Association has recently recommended against taking the AREDS dosage of 400 IU of Vitamin E each day and instead recommended 200 IU per day. )
Zinc - The retina contains the second highest concentration of zinc in the body (male sexual organs the highest). Zinc is also necessary to transport Vitamin A to the eye: Recommended dosage: 69.6 mg.
Copper - To activate antioxidant enzymes and enzymes that help process amino acids. It is needed to help maintain a normal level of copper in the body: Recommended dosage: 1.6 mg.
Taurine - Filters out harmful UV radiation and is essential to the retina. A strong correlation between low taurine levels and macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and diabetic retinopathy have been found: Recommended dosage: 400 mg.
Lutein - Filters out harmful radiation and helps maintain proper lens density. The healthy macula has a high density of lutein, essential for ocular health. The Lutein Antioxidant Supplementation Trial (LAST) found that not only did Lutein slow the progression of macular degeneration, but many patients actually experienced an improvement in vision following taking this supplement: Recommended dosage: 8 mg.
DHA - An Omega-3 Fatty Acid essential for normal retinal and brain development in mammals. 60 percent of the retinal photoreceptor's outer segment is made of DHA, which serves as a shield to protect the cell. DHA levels correlate with visual and mental performance: Recommended dosage:120 mg.
After reviewing hundreds of medical studies, Dr. Richard J. Shuldiner, a Southern California optometrist and low vision diplomate, has joined with leading nutrition scientists to develop a proprietary supplement product that is unsurpassed in the marketplace today. Dr. Shuldiner's Macula Therapy Formula contains a combination of the above eight nutrients in a convenient capsule form. This combination is like putting up a fortress to guard your precious eyesight.
Medical science is revealing that nutritional supplementation is not just for those with eye disease, but those at risk as well. Harvard University has found that there is a genetic link to most eye diseases, predisposing the children of patients with degenerative ocular disease. The best defense is a good offense, but it is imperative that you check with your personal physician before beginning a regimen of any vitamins.
Additional ocular defenses
Along with proper supplementation with vitamins, a healthy diet is very important. Foods high in antioxidants and lutein are very important. Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale are excellent choices. Also, lower the level of LDL and Cholesterol in the blood. They block up the blood vessels reducing the ability of the blood cells to bring nutrition to the macula.
Sunlight is your biggest enemy. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun can ultimately lead to macular degeneration and cataracts. Therefore, high quality sunglasses are not only fashion statements and glare redcucers, but also a necessity.
Smoking is another major cause of macular degeneration. Smoking fills the red blood cells up with molecules of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and others leaving less room for oxygen and nutrients. The rods and cones of the retina cannot get the proper nutrition to do their jobs. Worse yet, the red blood cells cannot remove the toxic waste products produced by the rods and cones.
The combination of poor nutrition and toxic waste build up causes degeneration of these important cells. It is the effect of ultraviolet radiation and smoking that will eventually lead to the blinding consequences of macular degeneration.
Also, use your eyes. Do not save them. You cannot damage any cells by using the eyes. So read as much as you can, enjoy the television, play hard outside (with your shades on of course), and live life to the fullest.
In case you are already suffering from dry or wet macular degeneration, low vision devices such as bioptic telescopes, clear image microscopes, closed circuit television reading machines, hand and stand magnifiers, and more are all available to enhance the quality of your life. Seek the services of an experienced low vision doctor to maximize the vision that you do have.