Many of my patients tell me that one of the worst things they fear about getting older is possible impairment, or loss, of their vision. It’s true, more visual changes occur as you get older as the aging process itself can impact the eyes significantly. Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD) is one of the most-feared vision problems as people get older. But, you’ll be happily surprised to know that there is a treatment out there that is showing some near-miraculous effects on restoring quality of vision in MD patients.
Cure Macular Degeneration with HBOT?
Well, cure, may be too strong a word at the moment. But, vision researchers are optimistic that Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy can ultimately cure, or significantly restore vision, to macular degeneration patients in our lifetime. But before I tell you about HBOT’s role in treating macular degeneration, let me first give you some information background on MD.
Simply put, vision with MD is like having a blackout in the central field of what you can see. Your peripheral vision, for the most part, is okay, though. MD is caused by light damage to the macula, the portion of the retina where light enters. It’s also where fine details of vision also occur. When the macula is damaged, fine details are lost and vision can become very blurry.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration affects more than 20 million persons over the age of 60 and is the leading cause of blindness in this age group. There are 2 types of MD:
1. Wet: Characterized by over-growth of blood vessels with fluid leaking in the site. Treatment consists of lasers to stop this overgrowth of blood vessels and is more likely to result in blindness.
2. Dry: Characterized by a buildup of deposits on the retinal surface called Drusen’s bodies. These interfere with blood flow to the macula and lead to impaired function of the light sensitive cells. Dry MD progresses slower than wet MD but can result in significant visual impairment over time.
Causes of Macular Degeneration
Researchers believe there are several things that can set the development of MD in motion, but the most significant is oxidative stress and environmental exposures. If antioxidant intake is not optimal, free radicals can build up throughout your entire body, resulting in premature aging and the retina can be significantly damaged by free radicals.
Low intake of leafy green vegetables and vitamins like lutein and zeaxanthin can fuel that oxidative damage process in the retina. In fact, studies have shown that people who eat high levels of kale, spinach, collard greens and other leafy green vegetables have a 43% lower risk of getting macular degeneration. Low levels of fish oil intake are also thought to be a culprit in the development of MD. Getting optimal levels of fish oil have been shown to lower risk by 40%. Eating oily fish (salmon, mackerel) 3 times a week results in a 70% decrease in risk!
Diets high in carbohydrates – refined sugar, as well as rice, white potatoes, corn, pasta, bananas, etc – promote the development of MD by raising blood sugar levels. Not surprisingly, people with diabetes are at higher risk for developing MD.
Oxygen deficiency in the eyes from poor blood circulation can also be a contributing factor as well. Oxygen deficiency reduces the eye’s ability to cleanse itself of toxic buildups. These buildups can lead to swelling and inflammation which reduces your eye’s ability to create more blood vessels in the damaged tissues. This last factor is one of the reasons that HBOT can help regenerate damaged eye tissues.
Hyperbaric Oxygen and Macular Degeneration
Hyperbaric oxygen treatments have been around since about 1995. It consists of delivering 100% O2 at greater than normal atmospheric pressure. Doing so offers some incredible health and anti-aging benefits such as:
1. Promotion of blood vessel formation
2. Enhanced wound healing
3. Improved infection control
4. Regeneration of damaged tissues
In treating macular degeneration, HBOT practitioners place patients in a closed, sealed chamber where 100% oxygen is administered under pressure. This forces high levels of oxygen into tissues which regenerates damaged tissue by saturating them with oxygen. HBOT also stimulates the release of stem cells which then travel to the site of damaged tissue and replaces it/heals it. Does it work?
In a small study out of Yugoslavia’s Split Naval Medical Institute, HBOT was used to treat macular degeneration. The participants received 30, 90 minute treatments of HBO. The results showed that reversal of macular degeneration with visual acuity of 3 patients doubled and a 4th patient’s visual acuity quadrupled.
In another study published in the Journal of Undersea Hyperbaric Medicine, a group of 14 patients with advanced ARMD were treated with HBOT. Significant improvements in their visual acuity were noted after only 1 hour.
If you’re over 50, doing your best to prevent macular degeneration is crucial to your vision health as you get older. Keeping an optimal diet with the nutrients mentioned above, as well as adding 3 mg of melatonin (a powerful eye specific antioxidant as well as sleep aid) to your daily routine can also help. If you already have MD, you may want to look into Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in your local area. It can help improve your vision and halt the progression of the condition further.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.