Which Is Worse?

November 05, 2012

By David Blyweiss, M.D.

In This Issue:

  • The difference between wet and dry macular degeneration
  • Why certain nutrients are a necessity, not an option
  • When should you worry?

The recent series on vision health seemed to hit a nerve for more than a few readers. Sure, cataracts are scary – but with cataract surgery being common and usually successful – it’s not the issue that scares people the most.

And while those who wear glasses wouldn’t mind losing them, it may not be their top health priority.

The thought of losing vision – losing independence – is the worst. Which is probably why so many readers wrote in about macular degeneration, in particular.

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Today, I’ll clear up some of your questions, such as, what is the difference between “wet” and “dry” macular degeneration, what can you do to lower your risk, and perhaps most importantly, what are the danger signs signaling you might have a problem.

Macular degeneration is exactly what it sounds like – a gradual deterioration of the macula of the eye, where our sharpest central vision occurs. Although it rarely results in complete blindness, it can rob you of all but peripheral vision. Making many activities, such as driving, reading, even being able to recognize faces – impossible.

While dry macular degeneration indicates there has been deterioration of the macula, the wet form indicates there is swelling caused by leaking blood vessels. Catching macular degeneration in very early stages – through having regular eye exams – can be your best bet to ensuring it doesn’t progress.

However, if the disease runs in your family history, you may have a genetic predisposition to it, and need to be more vigilant from an earlier age.

The problem is that people often don’t take their eye health seriously… until there is a problem. But macular degeneration is not a disease you want to wait around for! Being aware of it before you have a problem – and making sure you are “feeding” your eyes the right nutrition is the key to prevention.

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The macula is made up entirely of two specific nutrients: lutein and zeaxanthin. The landmark study – called AREDS for Age-Related Eye Disease Study – showed that people with macular degeneration have lower levels of these two nutrients.

Feeding the macula these nutrients throughout your lifetime – and paying particular attention to eye nutrition as you hit your 40’s and beyond – is essential. That means getting plenty of leafy greens and colorful fruits and vegetables on a regular basis.

The study also showed that people who have been diagnosed with macular degeneration can slow the disease progression by increasing these nutrients and being vigilant about getting enough of them every single day.

And that’s good news. But there’s one thing I can’t state strongly enough: Don’t take changes in your vision lightly.

Here are the symptoms of both forms of macular degeneration. If you have noticed any of these, get your eyes checked right away:

  • Light: You may need to use a brighter light when reading or doing close work. Or you may find it difficult to adjust to low light environments, such as restaurants or making your way to your seat in a movie theater.
  • Reading: Printed words may look gradually blurrier over time, even if your eyeglasses prescription isn’t changing. (Note that many of us have chronic eye strain from too much computer time, but the blurriness of macular degeneration doesn’t resolve the way eye strain does when you take a break from the computer or reading.)
  • Colors: You may find that colors are less bright or intense than they once were.
  • Clarity: You may begin having difficulty recognizing faces or notice a haziness of your overall vision. You might also notice a blurred or blind spot in the center of your field of vision.

Many of the symptoms are the same for wet macular degeneration, but they come on more rapidly. And in more advanced cases, you may even start having “hallucinations” – where you see either geometric shapes or people that aren’t really there.

Of the two types of macular degeneration – dry and wet – the more serious and threatening is the wet form. Fortunately, this form is less common – accounting for 10-15% of all cases. But it also accounts for 90% of all cases of serious vision loss from the disease.

And while the dry form is more common, progresses more slowly, and is less threatening to your vision – it can progress to the wet form if it isn’t carefully managed.

Conventional medicine doesn’t offer a very hopeful outcome when it comes to macular degeneration. They claim there is no cause, and that treatment options are limited, at best. But as a Functional Medicine physician, I would say it’s because they aren’t looking in the right place. Which is towards more aggressive nutritional management, and higher doses of supplemental nutrients.

I recommend the following:

• Lutein 25mg
• Zeaxanthin 3mg
• Astaxanthin 10 mgm
• Vitamins C, E, and A (preferably as beta-carotene)
• Omega-3 (fish oil) 500mg
• Zinc 18mg
• Selenium 100mcg
• Bilberry Extract 100mg

In addition to this nutritional cocktail, your eyes require plenty of antioxidants and diligent UV protection.

Plus, the laundry list of metabolic crises we are facing today – blood sugar, blood pressure, cardiovascular issues, obesity – are all part of a larger picture of health that must be addressed. The wet form of macular degeneration, for example, is directly related to your vascular health, and your vascular health is directly related to your metabolic health.

The body is more than a sum of its parts. It is a finely-tuned system.

When you wait for diseases to strike before you address them, you face an uphill battle. But if you work towards optimal health using common sense approaches – such as nutrition, exercise, and supplementing your diet with specific nutrients your body needs – you have a much better chance of outrunning some of the worst diseases than come with aging.

Everyone knows that a newborn baby is the most vulnerable among us, and needs to be protected as such. Consider your eyes the perpetual newborn in your life. And care for them with the same diligence you would a tiny baby – if you expect your vision to serve you throughout your entire life.

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