Macular Degeneration Natural Treatment

A primary treatment for intermediate to advanced (a.k.a. late) stages of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) includes dietary supplements, and these supplements have the ability to prevent some individuals with AMD from losing their vision!

However, 8 out of 10 people are either taking the wrong dose or shouldn’t be taking the supplement at all, according to some research. Two surprising factors that determine which supplements are safe to try are smoking status and history of urologic problems, and both of these will be discussed in more detail. If you’re worried about AMD, get a dilated eye exam —it could save your vision.

Individuals with intermediate to advanced stages of dry (geographic atrophy) and wet (neovascular) AMD are now candidates for the AREDS 2 supplement (Moyad #1 recommendation) and AREDS 1 (Moyad #2 recommendation). This represents one of the most dramatic clinical findings for a supplement in the history of medicine because of the potential of these pills to now prevent vision loss.

What is Macular Degeneration?

AMD is the primary cause of blindness in adults 55 and older worldwide; in the United States, it’s responsible for 50 percent of all vision loss. It’s caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina (also known as the macula), which is responsible for seeing what is directly in front of you (near or far) and also detailed vision and color perception. More than one-third of individuals over age 75 have AMD, which can take two forms: The “dry” type (80 to 90 percent of all cases) occurs when cells in the macula break down slowly and gradually blur central vision. 

The wet (a.k.a neovascular) form occurs when an abnormal overgrowth of blood vessels leaks blood and fluid at the back of the eye, leading to a loss of central vision. It is less common but more frequently results in profound vision loss.

Major risk factors for AMD include family history, smoking, advanced age, hypertension, and low macular pigment (it protects the eye from damaging rays), but other factors include a poor diet, obesity, unprotected exposure to the sun, and light-colored skin or eyes. (The color of your iris is not the same as your macular pigment.)

There really aren’t any symptoms in the early stages of macular degeneration, but an ophthalmologist will be able to spot small, yellowish metabolic waste deposits known as drusen during an eye exam (all the more reason to get regular exams). 

As the disease progresses, there are large areas of retinal pigment epithelial cell loss, which leads to central vision decline. So, the first noticeable symptoms don’t occur until later in the disease process, and these include blurring of central vision; visual distortion; lines that appear wavy (for example, even telephone poles can appear crooked) or are missing; and difficulty reading, driving, and recognizing faces. The Amsler grid is part of a basic eye exam that you’ll get at your doctor’s office (or you can do it at home). If the lines are wavy or missing, you might have AMD.

Macular Degeneration Natural Treatment

1. Combination product (you can buy this exact mixture or something close to it from many companies)

The formula (below) came out of the AREDS 2 study, and, as with the first study, it’s been shown to potentially slow the progression of macular degeneration, especially the intermediate to advanced forms. 

  • 500 milligrams vitamin C (as ascorbic acid)
  • 400 IU vitamin E (as dl-alpha-tocopheryl acetate)
  • 80 milligrams zinc (as zinc oxide)
  • 2 milligrams copper (as cupric oxide, to prevent potential anemia from the high intake of zinc)
  • 10 milligrams lutein (water-soluble triglyceride form)
  • 2 milligrams zeaxanthin (water-soluble triglyceride form)

AREDS 2 was a very complicated but wonderful clinical trial that replaced beta-carotene with the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, and it found that they were safer than and perhaps as effective as beta-carotene. 

The result: A formula that’s better for current and former smokers. The other interesting observation was that the 80- milligram dose of zinc may have worked better than a lower dose (25 milligrams) tested in this study. Keep in mind that almost all of the participants in AREDS 2 also took a Centrum Silver, which I also recommend. Ask your doctor whether you should be taking the formulation on this page or a modified version with less zinc (25 milligrams).

2. Combination product

The formula below (in a specific Bausch & Lomb formulation sold as PreserVision Eye Vitamin and Mineral Supplement) was used in the AREDS 1 study, and it has been shown to slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration, especially in those with intermediate to advanced AMD. It reduced the risk of progression to advanced AMD by 25 percent, and it reduced the risk of moderate vision loss by 19 percent.

  • 15 milligrams beta-carotene
  • 500 milligrams vitamin C (as ascorbic acid)
  • 400 IU vitamin E (as dl-alpha-tocopheryl acetate)
  • 80 milligrams zinc (as zinc oxide)
  • 2 milligrams copper (as cupric oxide, to prevent potential anemia from the high intake of zinc)

The formula is only for people who have never smoked. Former or current smokers should not take it because beta-carotene in supplement form (it’s okay in food) can increase the risk of lung cancer in individuals with a smoking history. It has not been shown to restore vision loss, prevent AMD, or help people in the earliest stages.

When the retina absorbs light, as it does day in and day out, it also produces free radicals, which cause cellular damage over time. 

But certain nutrients, like those listed above, can reduce exposure of the retina to these and other harmful particles. If antioxidants from food or supplements have an impact anywhere in the human body, it seems that the eye is one of the best places to study this effect, especially the retina, because it is very susceptible to damage as we get older. 

The researchers didn’t study the effect of each individual supplement on the eye, only the combination. However, the trial did show that even patients with adequate healthy diets could benefit from this supplement combination.

There were some significant side effects of this formula, though: The dose of zinc was linked with a higher risk of yellowing of the skin and a higher risk of being hospitalized from genitourinary problems, such as prostate enlargement, urinary tract infections, and kidney stones (this was compared to the formula without zinc). 

In all fairness, other eye health studies, including AREDS 2, have not found this risk to be serious, and if the trade-off is preserving your vision, it might be worth it. In addition, while it wasn’t looked at in the AREDS studies, taking 400 IU of vitamin E daily has been found to increase the risk of prostate cancer

And former and current smokers or anyone who’s been exposed to asbestos should not take beta-carotene supplements because they increase the risk of lung cancer. What it boils down to is this: Ask your doctor whether you should be taking the formulation on this page or a modified version with less zinc (25 milligrams). Keep in mind that almost every participant took a Centrum multivitamin in addition to the formula, which I also recommend.

3. Lutein (10 milligrams a day) and Zeaxan-thin (2 milligrams a day)

Lutein (10 milligrams a day) and zeaxan-thin (2 milligrams a day) may be beneficial in preventing AMD or keeping it from progressing past the early stages. 

It’s also a viable option for people who may be concerned about taking large doses of zinc or vitamin E. The high concentration of lutein and zeaxanthin, known as carotenoids, in the macula gives it a yellowish color (the Latin word for yellow is luteus, and the Latin word for Moyad is Moyad). 

Where do you think that yellow color in egg yolks comes from? Yup, lutein! The two supplements work as photoprotectants, meaning they help filter or absorb potentially damaging light rays as they enter the eye. The body cannot make lutein or zeaxanthin, so they must come from diet or supplements. 

Manufacturers only recently developed the ability to make them, otherwise this duo probably would have been used in the original AREDS study. So, the idea here is simple: If you can increase the macular pigment of the eye with lutein and zeaxan-thin, then you can reduce the risk of age-related eye disease, but this still needs some more research.

You can increase absorption by taking these with a meal that has some fat in it. Naturally then, any medications that block the absorption of fat (such as the weight loss drug Orlistat) may reduce absorption of lutein and zeaxanthin. Do not take these supplements when pregnant or breast-feeding because this has not been studied.

Be warned that lutein can cause yellowing of the skin (this is called banana- dermosis—just kidding, it’s called carotenodermia). It’s harmless and temporary and should go away when blood levels of the carotenoids drop. 

Before supplementing with lutein and zeaxan-thin, work with your eye doctor to determine if you even need it. He’ll check your macular pigment optical density (the greater the concentration of lutein and zeaxanthin, the lower the potential risk of AMD) and then track it over 6 to 12 months with the supplements to see if there’s any improvement.

What Are Useless For Treating Macular Degeneration?

Beta-carotene supplements for anyone with a history of smoking

They have been found to increase the risk of lung cancer in former and current smokers in three major clinical trials. The beta-carotene you get in foods like sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, and carrots is safe, though.

Omega-3 fatty acids

When these omega-3s were added (1,000 milligrams per day) to the AREDS 2 formula, they failed to slow the progression of AMD. Sorry, folks! They can help with dry eye (see the Dry Eye section), though. But, eating two servings of omega-3-rich fish per week (like salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, halibut, trout, white-fish, and tuna) and using plant-based cooking oils, walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds might work to help prevent AMD because the compounds may be better assimilated as part of a varied nutrient- rich diet than supplements are.

Blueberry extract (orany berry extract)

I’ve never seen them work, and they have not had adequate testing for AMD, so stick with getting berries the old-fashioned way because there may be some benefit to berries in their whole, natural form due to other compounds yet to be discovered. In fact, whole blueberries are getting a lot of research attention, and these studies seem to suggest that they may lower the risk of eye diseases, including AMD, and other berries are also being studied.

Astaxanthin

This carotenoid (it contributes to the red color of cooked shellfish and salmon) is being studied and getting a lot of hype, but I believe it will end up being one of the most overrated supplements of my time! It has been combined with lutein and zeaxanthin in a few studies, but I don’t see how the results are any better than those with lutein or zeaxan-thin by themselves—or couldn’t be improved simply by changing the dose of lutein and zeaxanthin.

Vitamin A

This is a fabulous eye health supplement, but the amount found in most low-dose multivitamins and in food is outstanding. In other words, you don’t need a special supplement

Vitamin D

I believe any relationship between higher vitamin D blood levels and lower risk of AMD has more to do with weight than anything else. As you gain weight, your vitamin D level goes down and your risk of eye disease goes up. When you lose weight, vitamin D in the blood rises and your AMD risk drops. In other words, vitamin D supplements are getting way too much credit!

Other Natural Cures For Macular Degeneration

Heart healthy = eye healthy

Normal cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels are all associated with a lower risk of AMD, as is exercise. I hope you are sitting down for this one: Some recent studies are showing up to 70 percent reductions in AMD in people with better diets who exercise and don’t smoke. Those who are obese have twice the risk of developing more advanced macular degeneration than normal-weight people do. It is also interesting that lower levels of inflammatory blood markers, such as CRP (C-reactive protein), are also associated with a lower risk of AMD.

Quit smoking

Smoking is the undisputed major risk factor for AMD, and it has been found to increase the progression of AMD to the more advanced stages. 

Wear shades

Sunglasses appear to reduce the risk of AMD, according to several studies.  Look for a pair that blocks UVA and UVB light.

Add eye-boosting nutrients

Multiple studies have suggested that getting more lutein and zeaxanthin from food (6 milligrams or higher total) has been associated with a lower risk of cataracts and AMD. The foods in the table above contain high quantities of both nutrients (they’re usually found together).

What Else to Know About Treating Macular Degeneration?

The prescription drugs for the less common “wet” form of AMD are fabulous but also more expensive than gold. One effective option is ranibizumab (Lucentis), but it can cost $2,000 per injection! Another drug, bevacizumab (Avastin), is FDA approved for treating cancer and has a similar structure to Lucentis, but it costs just $50 per injection.

They had equivalent results in a head-to-head study for wet AMD, yet there was an unexplained increase in the number of people on Avastin who experienced infections and stomach disorders that required hospitalization. Regardless, it’s worth asking your doctor about them.

Folic acid and vitamins B12 and B6 are currently being studied for their ability to slow the progression of AMD, and honestly, this caught a lot of experts off guard, including me! A large Harvard study was evaluating whether high dosages of these vitamins can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease but failed to find a connection.

However, in the process, the researchers discovered that the supplements appeared to reduce the risk of AMD or the progression of the disease in earlier stages. Remember, there are no supplements that have been proven to do this yet. But, as is often the case, more research needs to be done since this was not an AMD or eye-related study.

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