These alternative treatments for macular degeneration include herbal, supplement and dietary suggestions to help with this particular eye problem.
Read about alternative treatments that can be used to treat hay fever: Alternative Treatments for Hay Fever.
Alternative Treatments for Macular Degeneration
Are there any herbs, foods or supplements that can help with
macular degeneration? Thank you.
Keville responds: A number of herbs can help
delay the progression of macular degeneration. Several formulas
incorporating these herbs are available in health-food stores. One
of the foremost herbs to consider is bilberry (Vaccinium
myrtillus). Its use for macular degeneration and other eye
disorders is backed by excellent research. It contains flavonoids
called anthocyanosides that strengthen blood vessels and connective
tissue and improve circulation in the eye. Bilberry is most
available in capsules.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) stimulates blood flow not only to the
brain to help you think better, but also to the eyes, making it a
good herb to try for macular degeneration.
Chinese medicine practitioners connect good eye health with the
liver. They recommend taking liver-en- hancing herbs, such as
bupleurum (Bupleurum chinense).
It’s important to eat a low-fat diet and avoid eating fried
foods. Fish oil seems to help a number of eye problems and is
especially important to the eye’s retina. You can take it as a
supplement—many varieties are available.
Although it isn’t known exactly what brings on macular
degeneration, the disease is associated with aging. Most holistic
practitioners believe that anything you can do to reverse the aging
process is beneficial. This means getting plenty of exercise and
consuming a healthy diet with as few refined foods, including
sugar, as possible. Relaxing your eyes with eye exercises also may
be helpful. In fact, so is relaxation in general.
A particularly important nutrient for eye health is
beta-carotene, which converts into vitamin A in the body. Some good
sources are carrots, kale, collard greens, spinach, broccoli,
pumpkin, peas and raw tomatoes.
Harvard Medical School researchers found that people who eat
foods high in two other carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, were
less likely to have eye problems. These nutrients also are found in
dark, leafy vegetables, especially collard greens and spinach. They
are best absorbed when eaten with fatty foods. Lutein and
zeaxanthin also are available as supplements.
The natural red pigment called lycopene—what makes tomatoes
red—is related to beta-carotene, but is an even stronger
antioxidant. It’s also found in watermelon and pink grapefruit.
People who don’t eat much lycopene have twice the risk of
developing macular degeneration. It is thought that, even if you
have already developed the condition, lycopene will slow its
Khalsa responds: The retina, located on the
rear surface of the eyeball, is about the size of a dime. The
macula, a yellow spot in the visual center, provides the clear,
sharp, central vision that you use for focusing on what is in front
In macular degeneration, a disease of the elderly, retinal
function declines, destroying central vision. Age-related macular
degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of severe visual loss in
the United States and Europe in people 55 and older. The retina is
rich in blood supply and exceptionally fragile. This
microvasculature requires adequate nutrients to perform
AMD is either dry (inadequate blood supply) or wet (leakage from
“rickety” blood vessels). AMD can be halted, and in some cases, the
damage reversed to a certain extent.
Ayurvedic herbs used for this condition include triphala (a
popular combination of herbs) and the tonic ashwaganda (Withania
somnifera). An Ayurvedic formula containing triphala was assessed
in a clinical trial of 48 retinopathic eyes. The formula rapidly
cleared retinal hemorrhaging and reduced recurrences.
In a study of 40 patients, published in Phytotherapy Research in
2001, pycnogenol extract (Pinus pinaster) helped slow the
progression of retinopathy by sealing the leaky capillaries. The
group taking 50 mg of pycnogenol three times daily showed no
decline in retinal function, and some improved.
The macula is rich in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. A
1994 report from the Journal of the American Medical Association
showed that 6 mg of lutein a day, included in a vegetable-rich
diet, significantly lowers the risk of advanced macular
Bilberry has become especially associated with vision benefits.
It may assist in reducing AMD risk. The extract prevents free
radical damage to cells and capillaries that can weaken their
membranes. The result is stronger, more flexible capillaries and
cell walls. Capillaries that can stretch without breaking or
leaking allow blood to flow better to feed the retina, which
strengthens retinal connective tissue, making it an all-around
ideal remedy for macular degeneration.
Bilberry extract, standardized to contain 25 percent
anthocyanosides, is generally taken in doses of up to 240 to 480 mg
daily. Because bilberry is a species of European blueberry, it is
thought that the entire blueberry family, which includes
huckleberry and cranberry, probably would work just as well and be
more available and less expensive than high-tech European
Also, consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially spinach
and collard greens, is associated with a lower risk of AMD.
Kathi Keville is the director of the American Herb Association (www.ahaherb.com) and author of 11 herb and aromatherapy books, including Herbs for Health and Healing (Rodale, 1996). She teaches seminars throughout the United States.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa has more than 25 years of experience with medicinal herbs. He is a licensed dietitian/nutritionist, massage therapist and board member of the American Herbalists Guild. Khalsa’s book Body Balance is available on our Bookshelf, page 58.
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The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.