Q&A: Macular Degeneration, Dark Eye Circles and Pap Smears

You have questions, we have answers.


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In every issue of Herbs for Health, professionals from a variety of health-care fields answer your questions about using medicinal herbs. In this issue, Rosemary Gladstar and Jill Stansbury answer your questions on macular degeneration, dark eye circles, and cervical dysplasia.

Rosemary Gladstar, author of Herbal Healing for Women (Simon and Schuster, 1993), and several other books on herbalism, runs Sage Mountain Retreat Center and Native Plant Preserve in East Barre, Vermont. Her experience includes more than twenty years in the herbal ­community as a healer, teacher, visionary, and organizer of herbal events.

Jill Stansbury has been a Naturopathic Physician for more than ten years, with a private practice in Battleground, Washington. She is the chair of the Botanical Medicine Department at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, in Portland, Oregon, and is the author of many books including Herbs for Health and Healing (Publication International, 1997).

The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.


Is there any herb that can help macular degeneration? I have been told the disease may be caused by a lack of zinc.
H. H.
Rolla, Missouri

There are a number of things that can be done to prevent and/or slow the process of macular degeneration. Good sight is dependent on a continuous supply of fresh blood and oxygen to the eyes and the surrounding muscles. Free radical damage and lack of blood and oxygen seem to be primary factors in degeneration of the macula and the resulting loss of vision.

Many foods, herbs, and supplements supply antioxidants and help control free-radical damage to the eyes. Among my favorites is ­bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). Studies have shown that people taking 400 to 2,000 mg of standardized bilberry extract have improved their visual acuity, night vision, and enlarged their visual field. American blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are also excellent sources of the phytochemicals responsible for increasing microcirculation in the eyes. I also recommend 120 to 240 mg of ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) daily to increase circulation.

Antioxidants are also helpful. I recommend vitamin C (500 to 1,000 mg daily), vitamin E (400 IU daily), beta-carotene (50,000 IU daily, but not above 8,000 IU daily during pregnancy), lutein (6 mg daily), and zinc picolinate (45 mg daily). Antioxidant-rich foods include berries and dark green leafy vegetables—especially kale and spinach, which are rich in lutein.

Though eye exercises may seem tedious, substantial evidence supports their usefulness for eye health. Certain exercises increase the supplies of blood and oxygen to the eye, which is what’s needed for healthy macula. There are many books available that offer instructions for eye exercises.

—Rosemary Gladstar

Bilberry and its relatives may help slow macular degeneration
—Jill Stansbury

Zinc is an important ocular mineral and should be supplemented along with the antioxidant trace mineral selenium. Take 15 to 30 mg of zinc daily, and 200 mcg of selenium daily. Carrots have long been associated with vision, and beta-carotene and other carotenoids, such as lutein, are important for protecting eye tissues from oxidative and degenerative damage. Also important are bioflavonoids including blue, red, and purple anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins, which give fruits their ­pigmentation. Blueberries and other berries in the Vaccinium family, such as bilberries and huckleberries, also help in the prevention and treatment of macular de­generation. Capsules with these pigment chemicals are available, as well as specific eye formulas that combine a number of herbs and nutrients. And don’t forget the medicinal value of food—eat plenty of carrots, blueberries, and other brightly colored foods.

—Jill Stansbury


I always have dark circles under my eyes, despite getting plenty of sleep. I think in my case this may be related to allergies, but I don’t know if it’s food or airborne allergies. Is there any natural method for preventing circles? All I ever read about or see are products for covering them up.
L. D.
Reisterstown, Maryland

Possible causes of dark eye circles include anemia, poor circulation, and dehydration
—Jill Stansbury

Dark circles are usually an indicator of a kidney imbalance. Because you indicated you are also experiencing allergies—­another sign of imbalance in the kidneys, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine—I would suggest you try some mild kidney tonics. Of course, to really determine if there is a kidney imbalance, several other diagnostic techniques should be employed by your health care practitioner.

Mild tonic herbs for the kidneys include nettle (Urtica dioica), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), chickweed (Stellaria media), cleavers (Galium aparine), marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis), and corn silk (Zea mays). I generally mix them in equal amounts and steep 1 teaspoon of the mixture in a cup of hot water to make a tea. Drink three to four cups daily. For those who don’t like herb teas, try filling gelatin capsules with equal parts of the dried, ground herbs. Take two capsules, three times daily. Or try one teaspoon of a mix of commercial tinctures made from the herbs. Take three times daily.

Watermelon (both seeds and fruit) is another “wonder remedy” for the kidneys. I save the seeds and dry them for tea in the winter. The seeds can also be processed in a juicer or blender and made into a refreshing tea for kidney health.

—Rosemary Gladstar

If you suspect allergies are to blame for the complaint, treating allergic sensitivity is of course the place to start. I would not suspect airborne allergies if you lack other symptoms such as itching or watering eyes, runny nose, or sneezing. I would also be curious to know if you have had any other sort of allergic symptoms, such as sensitivity to cats, dogs, perfumes, soaps, or chemicals. Any signs of asthma? Eczema? Any of these would suggest a potential allergic disorder and would be best treated with antioxidant nutrients, bioflavonoids such as quercetin, essential fatty acids such as flaxseed, or herbs such as eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) or nettles. A qualified health-care professional can help you in determining the best dosages.

A food allergy would have to be identified by some type of careful diet and keen observation or by a laboratory. I would suggest a trial-and-error diet for starters. I would avoid all the common food allergens, including dairy, corn, wheat, sugar, caffeine, citrus, tomatoes, peanuts, chocolate, and potatoes. Avoid these and any other suspected foods for two months. Then add foods back in one at a time, watching carefully for reactions.

Other possibilities for dark circles include anemia, poor circulation, constipation/bowel toxicity, and dehydration. Have a simple blood test to rule out anemia, and treat constipation, liver congestion, or flatulence with herbs such as milk thistle (Silybum marianum), dandelion, Oregon grape root (Mahonia aquifolium), and burdock (Arctium lappa). I recommend a dose of 30 to 100 drops of a tincture containing one or more of these herbs, two to four times per day.

—Jill Stansbury


My yearly Pap smear results found abnormal cells, possibly suggestive of human papillomavirus (HPV). They said I had mild ­dysplasia. I take care of my body, eat well, and know a lot about herbal medicine. I quit smoking, stopped drinking caffeine, and am now taking herbs such as chaparral, dandelion root, burdock, and more. Am I right to do this on my own?
L. M.
Missoula, Montana

Your diet and lifestyle changes and the herbs you’re taking are excellent ­choices; I can tell that you have done your homework. In addition to the herbs you’re already using, I would recommend wheatgrass juice. If it’s difficult to obtain, you can buy it dried. Add the powder to blender drinks or encapsulate it. Two tablespoons fresh juice or one tablespoon of the dried powder is recommended daily.

I would also suggest adding vitex berries (Vitex agnus-castus) to your program; use about one teaspoon of the tincture three times daily or two 650-mg capsules three times daily. Vitex has a balancing effect on the hormones and helps prevent dysplasia.

Low levels of vitamins C, A, and E, folic acid, and selenium are common in women with cervical dysplasia. It may be wise to supplement with these vitamins and minerals until test results show normal cell growth again. Most doctors will recommend a “wait and see” period, which creates a ­perfect opportunity to try correcting the problem by natural means.

Cervical dysplasia is not cancer, although it can be a cancer precursor to it if left untreated. If you get Pap smear results that are “suspicious,” it’s always important to repeat the test to rule out the ­possibility of lab error.

I also recommend using a wholesome diet, guided imagery to envision the cells in your cervix as normal and healthy, and other natural means to correct the situation.

—Rosemary Gladstar

You’re absolutely right to do what you can for yourself! If you have quit ­smoking and drinking caffeine, you have ­probably done more than any doctor or medicine can do for you. Do follow-up with a doctor to have a repeat Pap smear, but definitely keep up the good work.

HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that is known to cause genital warts as well as increase the likelihood of cervical ­dysplasia. You may benefit from antiviral herbs such as lomatium (Lomatium ­dissectum), ­astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), or licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), as well as from immune-stimulating and supportive nutrients such as zinc and vitamin C. Folic acid deficiency is associated with cervical dysplasia, and smoking is known to deplete all of these nutrients. Ask an herbally trained ­doctor or naturopath to suggest appropriate supplement dosage levels. 8

—Jill Stansbury