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The Link Between Macular Degeneration and Liver Health

Learn why preserving vision and maintaining liver health share several commonalities.

As one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness, macular degeneration becomes more of a concern with advancing age. Consequently, this disease is often referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Although the eyes are physically located quite a distance from the liver, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory describes a definitive association between the two. In addition, certain natural supplements that help those with chronic liver disease also help prevent or slow down AMD.

About Macular Degeneration
Presumed to affect an estimated 20 million Americans within the next 20 years, macular degeneration is the slow deterioration of cells in the macula. A tiny area near the center of the retina where vision is most acute, the macula is the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail.

There are two types of macular degeneration – dry and wet:

1.    Dry Macular Degeneration – Affecting 90 percent of people with macular degeneration, the dry form is characterized by the presence of drusen (yellow deposits) in the macula. In general, drusen do not cause changes in vision; however, as they grow in size and increase in number, they may lead to a dimming or distortion of vision that people find most noticeable when they read.

2.    Wet Macular Degeneration – In approximately 10 percent of cases, dry macular degeneration can progress to the more severe form, wet macular degeneration. The wet form is characterized by the growth of abnormal blood vessels underneath the macula. These blood vessels leak blood and fluid into the retina, causing distortion of vision that makes straight lines look wavy, as well as blind spots and loss of central vision. These abnormal blood vessels eventually scar, potentially leading to permanent loss of central vision.

In its early stages, macular degeneration may not have symptoms and, thus, can go unrecognized until it progresses or affects both eyes. The first sign of macular degeneration is usually distortion of straight lines; this can progress to a gradual loss of central vision. Although there is no effective treatment yet for macular degeneration, natural remedies can go a long way in helping to prevent macular degeneration from progressing to the point of vision loss.

TCM Connects the Liver With Macular Degeneration
In their understanding that the human body is a complex integration of all of its parts, practitioners of TCM view health differently than most standard medical doctors. According to the thousands of years old practice of TCM, age-related macular degeneration primarily stems from a blood deficiency. Although this may sound like anemia to someone unaccustomed to TCM terminology, a Western diagnosed case of anemia need not be diagnosed for a Chinese medical diagnosis of blood deficiency to exist.

Because TCM theory teaches that the liver stores the blood, blood deficiency links AMD and the liver. Based upon this understanding, liver blood deficiency easily leads to malnutrition of the eyes. On the other hand, TCM strategies that fortify liver blood improve eye health. More specifically, fortifying liver blood improves the eye’s nutrition and thus nourishes the macula.

Nutrition Benefits AMD – and the Liver, Too
There is little doubt that macular degeneration can improve with proper nutrition. In 2004, scientists at the National Eye Institute predicted that as the population aged, the rate of AMD would increase substantially. However, the opposite appears to have happened. Researchers published a report in the January 2011 Archives of Ophthalmology that confirms this. They found that the prevalence of AMD in the 2005-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey was 6.5 percent, lower than the 9.4 percent prevalence reported in the 1988-1994 Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The scientists speculate that this reversal is likely a result of the public’s general reductions in smoking and improvements in diet, physical activity and blood pressure. Health experts suspect that the growth of lifestyle awareness seen in the past few years is instrumental in the reduction of macular degeneration prevalence.

Hundreds of research studies have shown that macular degeneration is a nutritional responsive disease, and that therapeutic doses of the following supplements not only reduce the risk of macular degeneration, but also may improve vision in people who already have the disease:

·    Lutein
·    Zeaxanthin
·    Bilberry
·    Grape Seed Extract
·    Glutathione

Many of these substances also help those with chronic liver disease, as these powerful antioxidants also help minimize liver cell damage. In particular, glutathione is known as the body’s master antioxidant, capable of neutralizing free radicals. Several studies have documented lower levels of glutathione in those with AMD. Health advocates familiar with the benefits of glutathione to liver and eye health generally suggest supplementing with alpha-lipoic acid as the best way to boost glutathione levels.

There are various ways to reduce the progression of macular degeneration, two of which are TCM liver tonifying formulas and supplements rich in liver and eye supportive antioxidants. Recommended by eye and liver health professionals, Advanced Eye & Vision Support Formula combines both of these strategies. Containing TCM fortifying herbs, alpha-lipoic acid and several other powerful antioxidants known to hinder AMD, this formula is one example of why the prevalence of macular degeneration is decreasing.

As evidenced by the knowledge and history behind TCM, hope provided by the decreasing frequency of macular degeneration and antioxidants that prevent liver damage and preserve vision, there is a connection between the liver and eyes. In recognizing their link, those concerned with their liver’s health and who want to preserve their sight can accomplish both goals by incorporating some of the strategies described above into their lifestyle., Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine treatment for Macular Degeneration, Dr. Marc Grossman O.D. L.Ac., Retrieved January 19, 2011, Acupuncture Dr Yuan LLC, 2011., Prevalence of Age-Related Macular Degeneration in the US Population, Ronald Klein, MD, MPH, et al, Retrieved January 21, 2011, Archives of Ophthalmology, January 2011., Oxidative Damage and Age-Related Macular Degeneration, Barry S. Winkler, et al, Retrieved January 21, 2010, Molecular Vision, November 1999., Vision: Making Inroads in Macular Degeneration, Nicholas Bakalar, Retrieved January 21, 2010, The New York Times, 2011.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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