February is Age-Related Macular Degeneration Awareness Month
Yesterday 833 people went blind in the United States from Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
According to the National Eye Institute (NEI): The #1 line of defense for preventing blindness is a yearly comprehensive eye examination.
Not all eye examinations are the same!
Here is a typical eye examination:
This month is Macular Degeneration and Low Vision awareness month. If you are a patient of mine- you know my passion for prevention, especially when it comes to Macular Degeneration.
Unfortunately, I see this disease every day in my practice- multiple times a day. I used to just see it in elderly people, but I’m starting to see it in younger and younger people. It is truly becoming an EPIDEMIC!
How do you combat an epidemic? PREVENTION AND AWARENESS
One of the most impactful ways you can protect your maculae and give them the best environment to perform optimally is by increasing your macular pigment.
When your eye doctor looks inside your eyes, he/she cannot see this very special protective layer.
The DENSITOMETER, which uses heterochromatic flicker photometry, has been used to measure carotenoids in the macula in most research for the past 20 years. The technology was developed at Brown University, and they developed an instrument that can be used clinically (see below).
The Densitometer is non-invasive and non-painful. It takes about 8 minutes to perform. At Optix, we charge $10.00 to perform the test.
Who should have the test?
- Have a family history of Macular Degeneration
- Have Macular Degeneration or precursor signs of Macular Degeneration
- Light complexion
- If they are exposed to a lot of blue light- outdoors (which is our biggest exposure) or indoors from fluorescent lighting, LED lighting or in front of LED screens- computers, iPads, iPhones, etc.
- Poor nutrition, smokers, systemic illnesses such diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, overweight
Honestly, I encourage everyone who is over the age of 21 to perform the test, because the earlier you get started on prevention for this devastating disease- the better!
Thankfully, if your levels are low, you can build them up. There are 3 and only 3 carotenoids that accumulate in the macula to build up the macular protective pigment layer: Lutein (L), Zeaxanthin (Z), and the most potent of all 3 and the hardest one to get in our diet- Mezozeaxanthin (MZ).
Depending on your macular pigment levels, and the amount of risk factors you have for developing the disease, would depend on whether or not I would prescribe a supplement to help build up your macular pigment levels. The supplement I prescribe is called Macuhealth. It is the only one that has all 3 carotenoids in the right proportions to most effectively build up the macular pigment. (Macuhealth is patented). We carry Macuhealth at Optix.
The latest research follows a common theme: macular pigment is important, and increasing macular pigment correlates with increased vision and visual performance. Studies, show, and I have confirmed in my practice, when prescribing Macuhealth for vision improvement, it can be measured via contrast sensitivity and electrophysiologic testing.
The results mirror the positive findings in the AREDS 2 (Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2) in the US regarding benefits of L and Z in macular degeneration patients, particularly in those individuals whose diets are deficient in the carotenoids. Dietary recommendations range in various countries from 6mg to 12mg. Most humans only get about 2mg daily through food sources.
Which brings me to the very controversial topic of the AREDS 2. There is so much misinformation when it comes to the marketing surrounding supplementation.
When you go to the drugstore and look at all the “eye vitamins” down the aisle, you will see written on the box, “No 1 doctor-recommended brand, and the only clinically proven formula.” You think you are doing something good for your eye health by taking it, right?
What if supplements faced the same scrutiny from the FDA as prescription drugs?
If they did, then it would also say on the bottle- there is no clinically proven benefit to taking the AREDS 2 formula for patients without Macular Degeneration or even those with mild disease, only a moderate benefit for those with intermediate to severe disease.
It would also say on the label that high levels of zinc have been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer. The label would state that if you have the wrong genetics, the high dosage of zinc might accelerate the progression of Macular Degeneration.
Furthermore, the label would state that other studies found that Vitamin C and E have no effects on the development of AMD.
What’s really exciting is where the latest research is shifting. Carotenoids in the macula are being looked at as a biomarker for carotenoid changes in the brain tissue in vivo and correlating these changes with cognitive decline and chronic diseases such as glaucoma and Alzheimer’s disease.
More to come on this as the research develops.
In Good Health,
Dr. Kim Walters
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 Research Group. JAMA. 2013;309 (19):2005-2015. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.4997
Awh CC, et al. Ophthalmology. 2015;122(1):162-169; doi:10.1016/j.optha.2012.o1.053.
Christen WG, et al. Ophthalmology. 2012;119(8):1642-1649; doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2012.o1.053.
Leitzmann MF, et al. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2003; 95:1004-1007.