Macular Degeneration (Holistic)

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About This Condition

Keep your vision in good condition by taking care to prevent macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness later in life. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful.
  • Load up on lutein

    Supply the eyes with this healthy antioxidant by taking 10 mg per day and eating plenty of green leafy vegetables

  • Seek support from a multi

    Protect your sight by taking a daily multivitamin containing beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, and riboflavin

  • Block those rays

    Wear glasses that block ultraviolet rays to prevent eye damage that can contribute to macular degeneration

  • Go for the ginkgo

    Get help for early stage macular degeneration by taking 120 to 160 mg a day of a standardized Ginkgo biloba herbal extract

  • Say good-bye to smoking

    Kick this unhealthy habit that has been linked to increased risk

About

About This Condition

Macular degeneration is the degeneration of the macula retinae, also called the macula lutea, an oval disc on the retina in the back of the eye. 

Degeneration of the macula retinae is the leading cause of blindness in elderly Americans.1

Symptoms

Macular degeneration is typically painless and includes symptoms of dark or blurry areas in the center of vision, seeing distortions of straight lines, and difficulty doing activities that require sharp vision (e.g., driving and reading). Peripheral (side) vision may remain clear.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

Smoking has been linked to macular degeneration. Quitting smoking may reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration.

Eating Right

The right diet is the key to managing many diseases and to improving general quality of life. For this condition, scientific research has found benefit in the following healthy eating tips.

Recommendation Why
Feast on fish
People who eat fish more than once per week have half the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration compared with people who eat less fish.

According to preliminary research, people who eat fish more than once per week have half the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration compared with people who eat fish less than once per month.

Choose good fats
In a preliminary study, high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol was associated with an increased risk of developing macular degeneration, so look for lean meats and low-fat dairy, and cook with unsaturated fats, such as olive oil.

In a preliminary study, high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol was associated with an increased risk of developing macular degeneration.

Stay tuned about alcohol
Beer drinking has been linked to increased macular degeneration risk, while wine drinking has been linked to a decreased risk, these reports are too preliminary to be conclusive.

Total alcohol consumption has not been linked to macular degeneration in most studies. However, one research group has linked beer consumption to macular degeneration, and in one of two trials, wine drinkers were found to have a significantly lower risk of macular degeneration compared with people not drinking wine. Most doctors consider these reports too preliminary to suggest either avoiding beer or increasing wine consumption.

Supplements

What Are Star Ratings?
Supplement Why
2 Stars
Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Coenzyme Q10, and Fish Oil
Follow label directions
In one study, supplementing with a proprietary blend of acetyl-L-carnitine, fish oil, and coenzyme Q10 improved visual function in people with macular degeneration.

In a double-blind study, supplementation with a proprietary blend of acetyl-L-carnitine, omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, and coenzyme Q10 for 12 months resulted in an improvement in both visual function and in objective findings on eye examination (a decrease in the drusen-covered area on the retina).

2 Stars
Ginkgo
120 to 240 mg daily of a standardized herbal extract
Taking ginkgo may help treat early stage macular degeneration.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) may help treat early-stage macular degeneration, according to small, preliminary clinical trials. Many healthcare professionals recommend 120 to 240 mg of standardized extract (24% ginkgo flavone glycosides and 6% terpene lactones) in capsules or tablets per day.

2 Stars
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
6 to 10 mg daily
Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants that protect the retina from damage caused by sunlight. Lutein has been shown to help people with both early and advanced stages of the disease.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants in the carotenoid family. These carotenoids, found in high concentrations in spinach, collard greens, and kale, have an affinity for the part of the retina where macular degeneration occurs. Once there, they protect the retina from damage caused by sunlight.

Harvard researchers reported that people eating the most lutein and zeaxanthin-an average of 5.8 mg per day-had a 57% decreased risk of macular degeneration, compared with people eating the least. While spinach and kale eaters have a lower risk of macular degeneration, blood levels of lutein did not correlate with risk of macular degeneration in one trial. In a double-blind study of people with macular degeneration, supplementation with lutein (10 mg per day) for one year significantly improved vision, compared with a placebo. Lutein was beneficial for people with both early and advanced stages of the disease. Lutein and zeaxanthin can be taken as supplements; 6 mg per day of lutein may be a useful amount.

2 Stars
Melatonin
Take under medical supervision: 3 mg daily at bedtime
In one trial, melatonin improved eye abnormalities in the majority of cases. It appears to work by regulating eye pigmentation and by functioning as an antioxidant.

In a preliminary trial, supplementation with melatonin (3 mg per day at bedtime for at least three months) resulted in an improvement in the abnormalities observed on eye examination in the majority of cases. Melatonin is believed to work by regulating eye pigmentation (and, consequently, the amount of light reaching the retina) and by functioning as an antioxidant.

2 Stars
Multivitamin
Follow label directions
In a study of people with macular degeneration, vision was the same or better in 88% people who took a multivitamin-mineral, compared with 59% of those who took a placebo.

In a blinded six-month study of people with macular degeneration, vision was the same or better in 88% people who took a nutritional supplement, compared with 59% of those who refused to take the supplement (a statistically significant difference). The supplement used in this study contained beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, and riboflavin. People wishing to take all of these nutrients may supplement with a multivitamin-multimineral formula.

2 Stars
Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, and Folic Acid
2.5 mg folic acid, 50 mg vitamin B6, and 1 mg vitamin B12
In a double-blind study of female health professionals who had cardiovascular disease or risk factors, daily supplementation with folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 significantly decreased age-related macular degeneration.

In a double-blind study of female health professionals who had cardiovascular disease or cardiovascular disease risk factors, daily supplementation with folic acid (2.5 mg), vitamin B6 (50 mg), and vitamin B12 (1 mg) for 7.3 years significantly decreased the incidence of age-related macular degeneration. 

2 Stars
Zinc
45 mg daily (with 1 to 2 mg of copper to protect against depletion)
Two important enzymes in the retina that are needed for vision require zinc. In one trial, zinc supplementation significantly reduced the rate of visual loss in people with macular degeneration.

Two important enzymes in the retina that are needed for vision require zinc. In a double-blind trial, supplementation with 45 mg of zinc per day for one to two years significantly reduced the rate of visual loss in people with macular degeneration. However, in another double-blind trial, supplementation with the same amount of zinc did not prevent vision loss among people with a particular type of macular degeneration (the exudative form).

1 Star
Beta-Carotene
Refer to label instructions
Sunlight triggers oxidative damage in the eye, which can cause macular degeneration. Beta-carotene protects against oxidative damage and may reduce macular degeneration risk.

Caution: Synthetic beta-carotene has been linked to increased risk of lung cancer in smokers. Until more is known, smokers should avoid all beta-carotene supplements.

Sunlight triggers oxidative damage in the eye, which in turn can cause macular degeneration. Animals given antioxidants-which protect against oxidative damage-have a lower risk of this vision problem. People with high blood levels of antioxidants also have a lower risk. Those with the highest levels (top 20th percentile) of the antioxidants selenium, vitamin C, and vitamin E may have a 70% lower risk of developing macular degeneration, compared with people with the lowest levels of these nutrients (bottom 20th percentile). People who eat fruits and vegetables high in beta-carotene, another antioxidant, are also at low risk. Some doctors recommend antioxidant supplements to reduce the risk of macular degeneration; reasonable adult levels include 200 mcg of selenium, 1,000 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, and 25,000 IU of natural beta-carotene per day. However, a preliminary study found no association between age-related macular degeneration and intake of antioxidants, either from the diet, from supplements, or from both combined. Moreover, in a double-blind study of male cigarette smokers, supplementing with vitamin E (50 IU per day), synthetic beta-carotene (about 33,000 IU per day), or both did not reduce the incidence of age-related macular degeneration.

1 Star
Bilberry
Refer to label instructions
Supplementing with bilberry may help prevent and treat early-stage macular degeneration.

Bilberry's active flavonoid compounds, anthocyanosides, act as antioxidants in the retina of the eye. Therefore, supplementing with bilberry would theoretically be of value for the prevention or treatment of early-stage macular degeneration. Bilberry has also been shown to strengthen capillaries and to reduce bleeding in the retina. A typical amount of bilberry used in studies was 480-600 mg per day of an extract standardized to contain 25% anthocyanosides, taken in capsules or tablets.

1 Star
Carotenoids
Refer to label instructions
Lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants in the carotenoid family, protect the retina from damage caused by sunlight.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants in the carotenoid family. These carotenoids, found in high concentrations in spinach, collard greens, and kale, have an affinity for the part of the retina where macular degeneration occurs. Once there, they protect the retina from damage caused by sunlight.

Harvard researchers reported that people eating the most lutein and zeaxanthin-an average of 5.8 mg per day-had a 57% decreased risk of macular degeneration, compared with people eating the least. While spinach and kale eaters have a lower risk of macular degeneration, blood levels of lutein did not correlate with risk of macular degeneration in one trial. In a double-blind study of people with macular degeneration, supplementation with lutein (10 mg per day) for one year significantly improved vision, compared with a placebo. Lutein was beneficial for people with both early and advanced stages of the disease. Lutein and zeaxanthin can be taken as supplements; 6 mg per day of lutein may be a useful amount.

1 Star
Fish Oil
Refer to label instructions
A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids, especially from fish, has been associated with lower risks of age-related macular degeneration.
An assessment of 3,654 Australians aged 49 years or older found an association between a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids from fish and a lower risk of age-related macular degeneration.
1 Star
Goji Berry
Refer to label instructions
As a rich source of zeaxanthin, goji berries may be beneficial.

Goji berries are also a rich source of zeaxanthin, a carotenoid that when consumed becomes concentrated in the macular pigment of the eye and may help protect the retina. Both human and monkey studies have shown that consuming goji berries or extracts high in zeaxanthin raises blood levels of zeaxanthin, but only animal research has verified that goji berry consumption increases macular pigment, and no research has looked at whether goji berries provide protection from diseases of the retina.

1 Star
Selenium
Refer to label instructions
Sunlight triggers oxidative damage in the eye, which can cause macular degeneration. Selenium protects against oxidative damage and may reduce macular degeneration risk.

Sunlight triggers oxidative damage in the eye, which in turn can cause macular degeneration. Animals given antioxidants-which protect against oxidative damage-have a lower risk of this vision problem. People with high blood levels of antioxidants also have a lower risk. Those with the highest levels (top 20th percentile) of the antioxidants selenium, vitamin C, and vitamin E may have a 70% lower risk of developing macular degeneration, compared with people with the lowest levels of these nutrients (bottom 20th percentile). People who eat fruits and vegetables high in beta-carotene, another antioxidant, are also at low risk. Some doctors recommend antioxidant supplements to reduce the risk of macular degeneration; reasonable adult levels include 200 mcg of selenium, 1,000 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, and 25,000 IU of natural beta-carotene per day. However, a preliminary study found no association between age-related macular degeneration and intake of antioxidants, either from the diet, from supplements, or from both combined. Moreover, in a double-blind study of male cigarette smokers, supplementing with vitamin E (50 IU per day), synthetic beta-carotene (about 33,000 IU per day), or both did not reduce the incidence of age-related macular degeneration.

1 Star
Vitamin C
Refer to label instructions
Sunlight triggers oxidative damage in the eye, which in turn can cause macular degeneration. Vitamin C protects against oxidative damage and may reduce macular degeneration risk.

Sunlight triggers oxidative damage in the eye, which in turn can cause macular degeneration. Because vitamin C functions as an antioxidant, it has the potential to protect against macular degeneration. However, in a double-blind trial, supplementing with 500 mg of vitamin C daily for eight years did not decrease the incidence of macular degeneration in healthy male physicians.

1 Star
Vitamin E
Refer to label instructions
Sunlight triggers oxidative damage in the eye, which in turn can cause macular degeneration. Vitamin E protects against oxidative damage and may reduce macular degeneration risk.

Sunlight triggers oxidative damage in the eye, which in turn can cause macular degeneration. Animals given antioxidants-which protect against oxidative damage-have a lower risk of this vision problem. People with high blood levels of antioxidants also have a lower risk. Those with the highest levels (top 20th percentile) of the antioxidants selenium, vitamin C, and vitamin E may have a 70% lower risk of developing macular degeneration, compared with people with the lowest levels of these nutrients (bottom 20th percentile). People who eat fruits and vegetables high in beta-carotene, another antioxidant, are also at low risk. Some doctors recommend antioxidant supplements to reduce the risk of macular degeneration; reasonable adult levels include 200 mcg of selenium, 1,000 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, and 25,000 IU of natural beta-carotene per day. However, a preliminary study found no association between age-related macular degeneration and intake of antioxidants, either from the diet, from supplements, or from both combined. Moreover, in a double-blind study of male cigarette smokers, supplementing with vitamin E (50 IU per day), synthetic beta-carotene (about 33,000 IU per day), or both did not reduce the incidence of age-related macular degeneration. Another double-blind trial found that supplementing with 600 IU of vitamin E every other day did not reduce the incidence of age-related macular degeneration in healthy women.

References

1. National Advisory Eye Council. Report of the Retinal and Choroidal Diseases Panel: Vision Research CA National Plan: 1983-1987. Bethesda, MD: US Dept of Health and Human Services, 1984. National Institutes of Health publication 83-2471.