Counseling Sheet

Macular Degeneration

Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
Preventive Medicine

The commonest cause of blindness after the age of 50 today is macular degeneration. A simple test you can give yourself in your own home is the Amsler Grid test. The Amsler Grid is simply lines that cross making many equal size boxes. The test is done by looking at the very center of the grid and detecting if the center of the grid fades out with a spot or vacant space which moves as you move your eyes. Another symptom may be that you require more light in order to read clearly. Another symptom is requiring longer to adjust to dim light after having come from the outside in bright sunlight.Your doctor (or public library) can give you an Amsler Grid, which looks much like a blank calendar. One eye is checked at a time, so the eye not being checked is blocked by a card. If the center of the Grid pattern looks broken, distorted, wavy, or any of it appears to be missing, you should visit your doctor right away. To minimize your risk for macula degeneration:

  • Keep the blood pressure low.
  • Do not smoke!
  • Wear protective sunglasses or a good hat, and remain indoors or very well protected from the sun during the brightest times of the day.
  • Avoid drugs as much as possible, especially aspirin.

The 1992 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in Dallas contained a presentation on macular degeneration in which they suggested the antioxidant vitamins and minerals as a treatment for this serious eye affliction. These nutrients can be found in abundance in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Vitamins C and E may retard macular degeneration. Vitamin C is found in practically all raw fruits and vegetables, particularly in kiwis, citrus, green peppers, strawberries, raw cabbage, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, and white potatoes. Vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds, whole grains, and vegetables. Vitamin A and beta-carotene may retard macular degeneration. These nutrients are found in dark green leafy vegetables, yellow and orange vegetables, and fruits. (Ref. Time, April 6, 1992, Special Health Report by Brown and Perot, "The Real Power of Vitamins") Small doses of selenium and zinc may also be helpful.

Aspirin has been linked to macular degeneration, the number one cause of blindness in people over age 55. Researchers examining 109 patients afflicted with macular degeneration found that all patients had been taking frequent dosages of aspirin. It is of concern that the present counsel to take an aspirin a day to keep from having heart attacks may cause increases of unnecessary blindness in the 50-plus age group in the years directly ahead (Ref. Alternatives, "Healing Secrets," Special Supplement 1994.

Dr. Lloyd Rosenvold found some improvement in his central vision in the four months he used Pycnogenol (bioflavonoids from a pine tree native to France). These same bioflavonoids are also available in true extracts from lemon peel and grape seeds.

Aspirin has been shown to reduce the incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Garlic will do the same thing, as it reduces intravascular clotting, a condition which many experts believe may contribute to the development of Alzheimer's disease. Aspirin, unfortunately, can cause easy bruising, spontaneous internal hemorrhage, increase the risk of development of senile macular degeneration, a condition in which hemorrhages peel the retina away from the back of the eyeball. Since aspirin accentuates hemorrhaging, it is potentially a sight-depriving drug for people with senile macular degeneration, and some other retinal disorders.

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