Acupuncture for Retinitis Pigmentosa
Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a genetic disorder that causes
progressive vision loss and can eventually lead
to blindness. The disorder affects the retina, which is the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, and is composed of rod and cone cells. In RP, the rod cells on the outer edges of the retina degenerate first causing loss of peripheral vision and night vision, followed eventually by the degeneration of the more central cone cells causing loss of colour vision and reading vision(1). Symptoms often appear at a young age and progresses over time, although the rate of vision loss varies significantly depending diet, lifestyle and genetics. RP affects approximately 1 in 5000 individuals worldwide(2).
What are the most common causes of Retinitis Pigmentosa?
RP is largely hereditary, but about 40% of RP patients have no known previous family history(3). In these instances, RP may occur as part of another genetic disorder such as Bassen-Kornzweig disease, Kearns-Sayre syndrome, Waardenburg syndrome, Alport syndrome, or Refsum disease(4). Some sources also suggest that prolonged, unprotected exposure to sunlight may accelerate vision loss, but heredity remains the key risk factor(5).
Standard Western medical treatments
There is currently no cure for RP. Most Western medical treatments focus on monitoring and slowing the progression of the disease and restoring sight so the patient can maintain daily activities. Some treatment protocols involve supplementation with antioxidants, vitamin A, phytanic acid, and vitamin E, while other methods such as gene therapy, stem cell therapy and retinal replacement are also being investigated. Talk to your optometrist or ophthalmologist for more information on any of these options.
How can Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture treat Retinitis Pigmentosa?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, the health of the eyes is not limited to the what is happening in the eyeball, but is linked to the proper functioning of the Liver, digestive organs, and Kidney energy. When blood supplied by the Liver is strong, it can nourish the eyes ensuring good vision and proper cell regeneration; when the blood supplied by the Liver is weak, the lack of nutrients causes vision problems. The Liver function is also supported by the energy of the digestive organs, and Kidneys. The Spleen and Stomach together help to extract the nutrients from food and deliver them to the rest of the body through the blood. The Kidney energy also aids in the functional movement of the blood to reach the eyes. Therefore when either the Spleen or Kidney are weak it can affect the vision. A Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment will focus on supporting the network of these three organs (Liver, Spleen, and Kidney) to ensure that nutrients, oxygen, and blood move through the body well and are nourishing the eyes properly.
How can Acupuncture help treat Retinitis Pigmentosa?
In 2014 Dr. Andy Rosenfarb ND, LAc and researchers from John Hopkins University tested the effect of a specific acupuncture protocol for the treatment of retinitis pigmentosa (click for a link to the paper). They found that 50% of patients showed measurable, significant visual function improvements after treatment, and the remaining 50% showed stabilization or mild improvement(6). Currently Dr. Rosenfarb is the leading expert in the field of Chinese Medical Ophthalmology for retinitis pigmentosa. His acupuncture treatment protocol can see advanced patients recover 5-15 degrees, and others recover the entire 90-degree field of vision(7). At Avenue Acupuncture, Ryan has received extensive training from Dr. Rosenfarb to treat Retinitis Pigmentosa and a number of other eye conditions.
Acupuncture treatments have shows to increase blood flow to specific regions of the body. For RP, treatments have demonstrated increased blood circulation to the eye and retina. In doing so, this will bring oxygen-rich blood to the rod and cone cells of the retina.
Treatment at our Clinic – What to Expect
To treat RP effectively, it is essential to undergo 10-20 treatments spaced out over 1-2 weeks. The treatments involve using a combination of Acupuncture, Microacupuncture, AcuNova, and Electro-Acupuncture to stimulate blood flow and energize the cells to regain function. Points on the hands, feet, and around the eyes are used in this minimally invasive technique.
Note: Acupuncture needles do NOT go into the eye. The closest points used are in the eyebrow and cheekbone area.
We recommend getting a full checkup with an optometrist or ophthalmologist before and after the series of treatments to accurately measure improvements and determine if further treatment is necessary. Everyone experiences the benefits differently so it is important to accurately gauge the progression. A key piece of information to keep in mind is that this is NOT a cure, but the treatments can aid in experiencing better vision.
After the initial round of treatments, patients usually notice that their visual field has increased, they see things brighter, and vision seems more clear. The effects of this treatment last anywhere from 3-6 months. During that time following the treatments, patients notice the vision slowly going back to the state it was before. Once this starts happening, it is time for another round of treatments. The goal of the treatments is to preserve the cells that are still alive, and prevent further cells from decaying.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa or are experiencing other vision problems, please do not hesitate to contact us at Avenue Acupuncture to find out if/how Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can benefit you.