Acupuncture for Macular Degeneration
Macular Degeneration, usually called Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD or ARMD), is a type of vision loss that affects detailed central vision. It is one of the most common causes of poor vision in people over 60 and accounts for 90% of new cases of legal blindness in Canada(1). Macular Degeneration is a deterioration of the macula, a small area on the retina at the back of the eye that is in charge of seeing detail in the middle of the visual field. This vision loss can progress slowly or quickly but does not affect the peripheral vision.
What are the most common causes of macular degeneration?
There are two types of macular degeneration: dry and wet. The dry type accounts for almost 90% of cases, involves mild vision loss due to a thinning of the macula, and progresses slowly(2). The wet type on the other hand is caused by abnormal blood vessels growing behind the retina and leaking blood or fluid that distorts the vision. Wet AMD causes vision loss that is faster and more noticeable, and although it often only starts in one eye there a risk that it will happen in both(3). Dry AMD can become wet over time, so sudden vision changes should always be checked by a doctor.
The specific cause of macular degeneration is unknown, but the risk of developing it increases with age. Other risk factors include: smoking, high blood pressure, a family history of AMD, and being Caucasian(4).
Standard Western medical treatments for macular degeneration
At this time there is no Western medical treatment for dry macular degeneration. However, studies suggest that a diet high in fish (omega-3 fatty acids) and vitamin D can reduce the risk of developing AMD(5). For people with wet AMD, medications can be injected into the eye to prevent the blood vessels from leaking. This has been shown to preserve vision in 95% of patients and restore or partially restore it in 40% of patients(6). Photodynamic therapy (PT) is another treatment option that can be combined with injections under the macula.
How can Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture treat macular degeneration?
The real power of TCM lies in the ability to improve blood circulation to very specific regions and structures in the body. Within the blood contains all of the vitamins/minerals from our digestion, oxygen, hormones, and much more. Once we begin to circulate the nutrient-rich blood to the areas of disease, that is when healing happens.
This principle also applies to macular degeneration. With AMD, the cones in the macula begin to deteriorate when there is a lack of oxygenated blood supplying the eye, leaving it malnourished. Over time, these cells will begin to deteriorate and degenerate, thus leading to the symptoms of AMD. Through our specialized treatments, we are able to increase the circulation to the back of the eye to nourish these sickened cells, to essentially begin to wake them back up.
These treatment principles can be achieved using both acupuncture and herbs. One study in 2012 found that TCM herbal medicines were effective in treating wet AMD, with significant possibilities to treat dry AMD as well(7). Another study found that with acupuncture “69% of patients improved in distant vision and 69% improved in near vision. Patients with both wet and dry forms of AMD benefited equally and half of patients had subjective vision improvement”(8).
How can Acupuncture help treat macular degeneration?
An acupuncture treatment for macular degeneration consists of stimulating specific acupuncture points around (not in!) the eyes, as well as distal points on the arms and legs. The acupuncture points around the eyes are generally located in the eyebrows and temples. These local points will help to improve blood circulation to the eye to support the health of the macula, retina, and blood vessels. Our clinic also increases this effect by adding a microcurrent stimulation, which increases the effect of the acupuncture. Other points used in the arms and legs will also help to stimulate the nervous system, which has a distal effect in helping to improve the eyes functions. In addition, these points will also help to treat other organs which may contribute to eye health.
The use of acupuncture points in the local area of the eye and elsewhere on the body for overall health is rooted in acupuncture and TCM’s holistic approach. Because Traditional Chinese Medicine sees the body as a connected whole, an eye condition such as macular degeneration can often be related to other health problems such as eczema, heart conditions, insomnia, or poor memory which may improve in conjunction with treatments for an eye problem.
If you or a loved one are noticing issues with your vision or have diagnosed macular degeneration, please do not hesitate to contact us to find out if/how Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can benefit you, and help you maintain clear and healthy vision.