Eye Disorders and Visual Enhancement
(Macular Degeneration, Cataracts, Retinopathy, Retinitis)
For better or worse, we humans are primarily visual creatures. About 80% of all the information we process in the body is through our eyes, yet eye health is something we tend to take for granted. The physical eye, called the “camera eye,” is only one part of the seeing team. There is also a “brain eye” which processes what the physical eye sees.
Visual loss affects 13% of all the elderly, and up to one-third may have unrecognized vision loss. Major causes of visual impairment include presbyopia, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. But another message may well be that eye disease is alerting patients to evaluate an imbalance in their way of living–denial of unhappiness, unhealthy high-fat diet, smoking, addictions, family or relationship problems, alcohol overuse, and/or depression.
Glaucoma is a serious eye disease that is actually a collection of ophthalmic diseases. In most cases the optic nerve atrophies and there is a fluid-pressure buildup, resulting in visual field deficits and damage to the optic nerve, vision loss, and eventual blindness. Increased intra-ocular pressure (IOP) is frequently present and is a risk factor for glaucoma (also called ocular hypertension). However, it does not always lead to optic nerve damage, and glaucoma can occur in the absence of IOP. New research points out that a lack of oxygen and low blood flow can cause glaucoma. A new theory states that mitochondria in the cells located at the back of the eye die from oxygen starvation, sodium poisoning, and waste accumulation. Red cells clump together and can’t fit through tiny blood vessels to deliver oxygen. The cells die of starvation and suffocation.
Macular degeneration is an eye disorder caused by progressive visual loss due to degeneration of the macula, the portion of the eye responsible for fine vision. It is probably the result of free-radical damage over the years and decades, which leads to loss of blood flow to the micro-capillaries. In “wet” macular degeneration, the macula starts to hemorrhage, causing a leakage of fluid from the tiny blood vessels that develop under the center of the retina.
Cataracts cause a clouding of the eye’s lens that can lead to visual problems. The main symptom of a developing cataract is a gradual, painless loss of vision. Cataracts are the number one cause of blindness in the world. Emotional problems and anxiety can also lead to an increased risk of cataracts.
Retinitis pigmentosa is a rare, inherited, degenerative disease characterized by atrophy of the light-sensing rods in the retina. Since the rods of responsible for vision in low-light situations, this disease (often in childhood) is frequently characterized by poor night vision.
Diabetic retinopathy is a disorder in which some of the tiny capillaries that nourish the retina leak fluid or blood that can damage the rods and cones (the two types of photoreceptors in the retina).
A lower-fat diet with more colorful fruits and vegetables provide, late in life, nutrients essential to vision. Dark, leafy green vegetables, as well as many fruits and yellow vegetables, may be protective. Desensitize allergies to foods (especially lactose in cow’s milk, which has been reported to be responsible for a 30% increase in cataracts). Foods with high concentrations of beta-carotene and lutein are excellent, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, white cabbage, carrots, green peas, green beans, kale, and spinach.
Detoxifying the body can help your cells from suffocating and starving. Pure water (8-10 glasses a day) and fresh organic food can help. Try and reduce or eliminate drinking coffee (coffee can produce a 13% decrease in retinal flow).
Lack of antioxidant activity can be a simple cause of visual problems. Other causes include underlying factors such as hypertension, diabetes, smoking, hypercholesterolemia, and other free-radical destruction. Wearing sunglasses (that decrease UV radiation from sunlight) can prevent cataracts.
Risk factors for glaucoma include positive family history, race (African Americans over age 40), severe myopia, IOP greater than 21mm Hg, diabetes, age greater than 60. Drug therapy includes beta-blockers (pilocarpine, timolol); carbonic anhydrase inhibitors (Dorzolamide, brinzolamide); adrenergic agonists (ephedrine); and prostaglandin analogs (Latanoprost). High doses of inhaled steroids used over long periods of time tend to increase intraocular pressure. People can suffer irreversible blindness due to UV rays and pollution.
RISK FACTORS FOR AGE-RELATED MACULAR DEGENERATION
- Age (95% of the “dry” type of macular degeneration is age-related).
- Smoking (free-radical increase)
- Body fat and fat intake (increased storage)
- Female gender, Caucasian (lower melanin content, less protection against blue light)
- Family history, light iris color eyes (genetic susceptibility)
- Sunlight exposure (increased amounts of damaging blue light)
- Poor nutritional status (insufficient antioxidant supply)
Carotenoids are natural substances that are vital constituents of the human eye. They include LUTEIN, BETA-CAROTENE and ZEAXANTHIN (found in spinach and spirulina) that act as antioxidants, fighting free radicals and possibly growing new macular pigment. There is epidemiological evidence supporting the protective effect of LUTEIN against age-related macular degeneration. Lutein is the primary carotenoid found in the central part of the retina called the macula. Lutein helps to protect the retina of the eye from sunlight and helps to prevent macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness in the elderly. In a recent study, lutein significantly improved vision in patients with age-related macular degeneration. Dosage of lutein is 2-4 mg daily.
Polyphenols is another group of bioflavonoids that is antioxidant and anti-inflammatory in nature. BILBERRY EXTRACT aids in removing toxic chemicals from the retina of the eye. Dosage: 25-80 mg a day.
- GINKGO BILOBA
Ginkgo is an adaptogenic herb that may improve microcapillary circulation. Recent studies have utilized ginkgo for treatment in normal tension glaucoma (NTG), a form of glaucoma in which intraocular pressure is normal. Standardized ginkgo extract supplementation has been shown to be a safe and effective therapy. Dosage: 50-150 mg a day for at least 3 weeks.
- PROANTHOCYANIDINS (grape seed extract and pycnogenol)
These super antioxidants decrease free-radical damage and boost eye health. They also enhance circulation and ensure a healthy blood supply to the eye. Dosage: 50-150 mg daily.
- VITAMIN A
It is well known that vitamin A deficiency can lead to night blindness, but vitamin A may also aid in color vision. Vitamin A is extremely important for proper eye function and a decreased risk of macular degeneration. Use lower doses in patients with liver toxicity or pregnancy. Vitamin A ointment is beneficial in eyes that seem dry and scratchy. Dosage: up to 25,000 IU daily.
- VITAMIN C with BIOFLAVONOIDS
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and free-radical scavenger that improves eye health and may reduce intraocular pressure. Dosage: 1000 mg twice a day.
- VITAMIN E
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that especially prevents and retards macular degeneration. This antioxidant is important in healing and immunity. Dosage: 400 IU daily.
Zinc is an important mineral that suppresses free radical damage. Zinc deficiency has been associated with retinal detachment. Zinc supplementation decreases the risk of contracted age-related macular degeneration. Dosage: 30-60 mg a day.
- ALPHA LIPOIC ACID
Alpha lipoic acid is especially effective against diabetic retinopathy. Dietary supplementation of alpha-lipoic acid has been shown to prevent cataract formation and improve glaucoma.
Glutathione levels decline in the lens of the eye with advancing age, particularly prior to cataract formation. Additional research shows that glutathione detoxifies the aqueous fluid of the inner eye, helping to maintain adequate fluid outflow among glaucoma patients. Dosage: 500 mg daily.
Taurine is an amino acid associated with zinc in maintaining eye function. It is present in the retina of the eye in high concentrations. Dosage: as directed, 500-1,000 mg daily.
N-acetylcysteine is a free-forming amino acid that has antioxidant activity and helps to protect the lens of the eye. Dosage: 500 mg daily with 50 mg of vitamin B6.
- OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS
Omega 3 fatty acids may decrease inflammation in the eye. Dosage: 1,000-4,000 mg daily.
- MULTI VITAMIN w/MINERALS
All nutrients are needed in balance and help to destroy free radicals that can damage the eyes. Levels of copper, manganese, and magnesium should be especially assessed.
- VITAMIN B-COMPLEX
Vitamin-B complex is needed for intracellular eye metabolism. Extra riboflavin (B2) may be helpful. Dosage: 50-100 mg daily.
MINI-TREATMENTS FOR SPECIFIC EYE CONDITIONS
Increase calcium and magnesium with vitamin D. Vitamin C and folic acid can help stop and reverse the progression of myopia while improving the focusing capacity of the eye.
Age-related Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a debilitating eye disease afflicting more than 10 million Americans and a leading cause of legal blindness. Since it is believed that AMD may be caused by free-radical damage, antioxidants including vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin C, and selenium may reduce the onset by 13%. Coenzyme Q10 is a powerful antioxidant that protects against macular degeneration. Colorful carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are found in high concentrations in the retina, and supplementation may increase the integrity of the macula and reduce the hemorrhaging permeability of retinal blood vessel walls. Proanthocyanidins (i.e. bilberry and grape seed extract) also benefit. Since zinc is found in relatively high concentrations in the retina, 40mg daily is recommended.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye and affects more than 14 million older Americans. If you think of the eye as a camera, it’s easy to see why having cloudy lenses make vision more difficult–if the lens gets dirty you can’t take a decent picture. Oxidative damage (UV radiation, cigarette smoke, sunlight, and chemicals) may cause cataracts. The use of antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E) reduces the risk of cataracts. Long-term vitamin C intake has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of cataracts. Folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 may help reduce visual diseases. Glutathione slows the progression of cataracts, and lutein and zeaxanthin (carotenoids) was very beneficial. Alpha lipoic acid may prevent cataract formation. Finally, copper and manganese are important minerals to retard the growth of cataracts. Levels may be assessed via hair analysis.
Use of prescription drugs like pilocarpine and physostigmine (both herbal-derived drugs) are still a mainstay of therapy. The antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid has been shown to protect against visual loss in cases of damage to the optic nerve. Magnesium relieves vasospasm in the retina and increases blood flow to the optic nerve. Antioxidants (vitamins A, E, C, selenium, and glutathione) are nutritionals that can protect the optic nerve. The B-complex vitamins (especially vitamin B12 and choline) are important for the eyes and brain. Rutin is an important bioflavonoid that works with vitamin C and aids in reducing pain and intraocular pressure. Ginkgo biloba can help lower high intra-ocular pressure, but may also be useful in normal tension glaucoma (NTG). Ginkgo improves vision in some cases of glaucoma. Several studies have demonstrated the ability of coleus forskohlii to lower intraocular pressure.
Treatment with high-dose Vitamin A (15,000 IU daily) has been shown to slow the degeneration. Vitamin E (400 IU daily) may be helpful in this eye disease. In one study, 40 mg of lutein daily for nine weeks significantly improved visual acuity in a group of patients.
Diabetes can cause retinopathy, a disorder in which the tiny capillaries that nourish the retina leak fluid or blood that can damage the rods and cones. Blood sugar control is primary. Vitamins E, C, and OPCs (bilberry) plus carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) are recommended. Ginkgo biloba and acetyl-L-carnitine add a positive antioxidant effect. Magnesium and vitamin B6 supplementation can correct a common deficiency. Shark cartilage can prevent or possibly halt the progression of the condition by inhibiting the growth of tiny blood vessels in the eye that contribute to vision loss.
Pink eye or conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conductive, the membrane that lines the eyelid and wraps around most of the white of the eye. Vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc help promote immunity.
Computer-related Vision Symptoms
Extended use causes dry, red, painful eyes and blurred vision. Artificial tears can help alleviate the dryness. Homeopathic drops like Similasan can help relieve some of this syndrome. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, zinc, and vitamins E, C, and B6 provide optical relief for computer users of all ages.
Babal, K. Glutathione. Alive #247, May 2003. Pp. 80-81.
Balach, PA, Balch, JF. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Third edition. Penguin-Putman, 2000.
Coleus Forskohlii- Monograph. Alternative Medicine Review, March 2006. 11(1): P. 47.
Gaby, AR. The Story of Vitamin A. Nutrition & Healing, July 1997. 4(7):3-4.
Head, KA, Natural Therapies for Ocular Disorders, Part One. Alternative Medicine Review, October 1999. 4(5): 342-355.
Kaplan, E. Glaucoma- A Dietary Approach. Alive #134. November 2000. P. 36.
Kaplan, R. A New Look at Eye Disease. Alive #253, November 2003. Pp. 58-61.
Kogan, BA. Healthy Vision A Natural Look. Natural Pharmacy. May, 2001. 5(5): 1,19-20.
Kondrot, E. Vision Problems Rising Rapidly. Journal of Longevity. 7(5): 34-36.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin- Monograph. Alternative Medicine Review, June 2005. 10(2): 128-133.
Nichols, TW. Alpha-lipoic acid: Biological Effects and Clinical Implications. Alternative Medicine Review, May 1997. 2(3): 177-183.
Oliff, HS. Ginkgo Extract Reduces Visual Field Damage in Patients with Glaucoma. Herbalgram, No. 62, 2004. P.. 30.
Richer, S. Lutein- An Opportunity for Improved Eye Health. JANA. Summer, 2001. 4(2): 6-8.
Rosick, ER. Carotenoids Can Help Maintain Healthy Eyes. Life Enhancement, Nov 2002. Pp 9-12.
Wick, JY, Zanni, GR. Optimizing the Treatment of Seniors with Glaucoma. Clinical Newsletter of ASCP. 2000. 4(15): 1-10.
Up Next: Epilepsy (Seizure Disorder)