As the number of baby-boomers who reach retirement continues to grow, an eye disease called macular degeneration – or age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – is becoming an ever-increasing health issue for millions of people. In fact, age-related macular degeneration is statistically found in nearly one-third of American adults over the age of 65, and is the leading cause of blindness in this age group. Scientists are predicting a whopping 18 million cases of AMD by the year 2050, and until recently, this disease was thought to be incurable and irreversible. However, researchers have recently conducted studies that indicate great hope for preventing and potentially healing AMD. Specifically, let’s talk about bioidentical hormone therapy and AMD.
What is AMD?
AMD is literally deterioration of a part of the eye, located in the center of the retina, called the macula. The retina is a critical part of the eye that is composed of millions of specialized structures known as photoreceptors that capture light as they receive signals from the brain via the optic nerve and convert these signals into images. AMD most often occurs when tiny yellow particles made of cholesterol called drusen begin to collect at the back of the eye and damage the macula and the photoreceptors. This type of AMD is called dry macular degeneration, and is by far the most common, accounting for about 90% of cases. Wet macular degeneration is the result of tiny blood vessels that grow abnormally in the retina and leak, causing damage and potentially rapid and irreversible blindness. Wet AMD always begins as dry, and progresses into wet, although not all cases of dry will turn into wet. AMD causes loss in the center of your vision, while peripheral vision is not affected. For many years, drusen have been identified as the culprit in AMD, and researchers thought they were probably the result of inflammation, cellular waste product, or reduction in blood flow to the retinal area
due to aging.
Certain risk factors for AMD have been identified as well. These include smoking, a high fat diet, obesity, insufficient physical exercise, high blood pressure, family history, and others. If these risk factors sound a lot like those for cardiovascular disease, it is because they are identical. What’s the connection with heart disease?
One word: Hormones.
Bioidentical Hormone Therapy and AMD
An exciting discovery was made about 10 years ago that is a boone for the care of AMD and for the overall understanding of hormone therapy. Researchers conducted several studies that led them to conclude that AMD can be prevented, and even reversed in some cases, by the use of bioidentical hormones. This journey began when cholesterol was pinpointed as the main ingredient in drusen, and the link between macular degeneration and cardiovascular disease was factored in. This link is very clear. In fact, it is estimated that a person with AMD has 5 times the chance of dying from coronary disease and 10x the chance of dying from a stroke than individuals without AMD. This led researchers to speculate that drusen form because the retina is trying to compensate for a lack of critical hormones in the blood by making its own. When it is unable to accomplish that, drusen (cholesterol) increases, causing AMD and increasing risk for cardiac disease.
The theory turned out to be correct, and it has been proven in clinical studies that supplementation with bioidentical hormones — not synthetic hormones — has significant healing effects on both AMD and heart disease. These hormones include: DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, pregnenolone, and others.
It’s also very important to note that the retina is technically part of the brain, as an extension of the optic nerve, and hormones such as pregnenolone, estrogen, and progesterone are critical for proper brain and nervous system functioning.
DHEA is also important in preventing AMD and heart disease. Research has shown that the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is abnormally low in patients with AMD (Bucolo 2005). DHEA has been shown to protect the eyes against oxidative damage (Tamer 2007).
Melatonin is a hormone and strong antioxidant that scavenges free radicals. Several studies have shown that many areas of the eye have melatonin receptors (Rastmanesh 2011; Lundmark 2006). In a clinical study, 100 patients with dry or wet AMD received 3 mg of melatonin at bedtime. The treatment prevented further vision loss. After six months, visual acuity had not diminished and the majority of patients had reduced pathologic macular changes upon examination (Yi 2005)
What Else Can Help Prevent AMD?
While hormone therapy has the most significant effect, certain other substances have also proven therapy themselves to be useful for treating and preventing AMD. These include:
- Bioactive substances that are found in many raw vegetables called carotenoids. Examples include zeaxanthin and lutein.
- Vitamins and minerals high in antioxidants such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E, zinc, and beta-carotene. When Mom told you that eating your carrots would help your eyes, she was right!
The past decade has seen an explosion of interest in managing wellness by restoring hormone balance. Unfortunately, progress in this area has been complicated by the use of non-bioidentical, pharmaceutical hormones such as Premarin® (horse urine estrogen). Scientific literature gives many studies examining the use of single hormones, which further muddles the issues at hand. We need more studies that focus on balancing all hormones – not just one or two. For example, a study to determine the value of estrogen therapy alone in managing a particular disorder is insufficient because estrogen deficiency must be looked at in the context of progesterone levels and other adjacent hormones. All of this would give us more insight in the realm of bioidentical hormone therapy and AMD.
Today, cutting-edge clinicians are increasingly using bioidentical hormones in their practice. These are human-identical hormones that are identical to those naturally produced by the body, which often become low due to aging. Examples of these bioidentical hormones include pregnenolone, dehydroepiandro-sterone (DHEA), estriol, estradiol, estrone, progesterone, testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, and cortisol.
Dr. George W. Rozakis has been a student of hormonal medicine for years and has proposed a new theory for one of the leading causes of blindness, which he titles “The Hormonal Theory of Macular Degeneration.” His main idea deals with the embryologic association between the retina and the brain. Since hormones are known to benefit the brain, Dr. Rozakis theorizes whether hormones also benefit the macula. When recent scientific literature showed that blood DHEA levels are low in patients with macular degeneration, that the macula can make its own hormones, and that cholesterol is present in the pathological lesions known as drusen, the platform was set for Dr. Rozakis’ theory.
There is only finite success using conventional treatment protocols to recover lost eyesight from AMD. Researchers are now recording the benefits of more holistic approaches to AMD. Those with AMD are also encouraged to improve diet (including a reduction in saturated fats), stop smoking, and protect their eyes from excessive light (including blue light from computers and hand-held devices). Supplementation with trace elements, carotenoids, antioxidants, and vitamins is highly recommended for improving overall metabolic and vascular function. The discovery of hormonal links to AMD has reinforced the concept that hormone balance along with the use of supplemental bioidentical hormones, plays a primary role in all types of wellness and disease prevention.
More Information & Research
Preventing Macular Degeneration A New Theory
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