After learning what happens in the eye during the development of Macular Degeneration and its symptoms and causes, this final instalment of the Acupuncture and Macular Degeneration series will be investigating the differences between western medicine treatments versus traditional Chinese medicine treatment.
Western Medicine and Macular Degeneration
So you’ve been diagnosed with Macular Degeneration; you know when, where, and what it all is, but how can it be fixed? If you’ve received a clinical diagnosis from your doctor, they’ll probably give you the following options for treatment:
As seen in part one of the series, wet macular degeneration is affected by delicate new blood vessels bursting in the retina. These vessels are “…prompted to grow under the retina by a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor…” or VEGF (Macular Degeneration NZ, n.d., para. 7). Anti-VEGF drugs are made of antibodies that sense the foreign presence and aim to neutralize the growth of new vessels. These drugs are injected directly into the eye and must be administered regularly and indefinitely.
There are three main anti-VEGF drugs used:
- Avastin (bevacizumab): A drug initially designed to stop the growth of new blood vessels in cancer patients.
- Lucentis (ranibizumab): Similar to Avastin but smaller, more effective and more expensive.
- Eylea (aflibercept): Similar, longer lasting and more effective than both Avastin and Lucentis but not funded by PHARMAC (The government agency that decides which drugs should be publicly funded in New Zealand).
Photodynamic therapy (PDT):
This therapy involves a drug called “Verteporfin [which] is injected into the arm and travels throughout the body…” which is activated by light (Macula.org, n.d., para. 1). Once the drug has had time to move through the body and into the eye, the drug is triggered by a laser light shone into the eye which “destroys the abnormal blood vessels without harming the surrounding tissue…” (Macula.org, n.d., para. 1). This therapy is often used in conjunction with anti-VEGF medications.
This form of treatment uses a laser light again, but this one is of much higher concentration to burn and seal the newly grown blood vessels to prolong vision. The process is painless and can be carried out in a doctor’s office – no need for hospitalisation, and there is no lasting damage to the eye from the light. After receiving laser photocoagulation treatment patients must be closely followed though, “as there is a 50% recurrence rate.” (Macular Degeneration NZ, n.d., para. 12).
Nutrition and supplements:
One thing that western medicine and Chinese medicine agree on is the importance of a healthy diet and sufficient nutrition. Western medicine recommends “daily amounts of… zinc 80 mg, copper 2 mg, vitamin E 400 IU, vitamin C 500 mg, lutein 10 mg and zeaxanthin 2 mg…” to reduce the progression of the disease. (Macular Degeneration NZ, n.d., para. 13).
Many of these methods of treatment rely on the destruction of new blood vessels to prolong sight temporarily but “…it may be timely to consider treatments that facilitate vascular maturation, rather than its arrest or destruction…” says author of Age-related macular degeneration: Beyond anti-angiogenesis David L. Kent (National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2014, para. 1).
Kent argues that anti-VEGF therapy may be doing more harm than good, as “Anti-angiogenic therapy [anti-VEGF], in all its guises, arrests repair and causes the hypoxic environment to persist, thus fueling pro-angiogenesis and further development of CNV [choroidal neovascularization; growth of new blood vessels in the eye] as a component of aberrant repair.” (National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2014, para. 1).
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Macular Degeneration
If indefinite injections directly into your eyeballs or lasers that can burn off blood vessels don’t sound particularly appealing to you, don’t worry –there is another way! In a New Mexico case study of “108 patients (56 women/52 men, median age 76.1 years [range 47-96 years])… 69% of patients improved in distant vision and 69% improved in near vision… patients with both wet and dry forms of AMD benefited equally…” through receiving regular acupuncture (Alston C. Lundgren, MD, 2005, para. 1).
In this study, patients were given multiple forms of treatment to combat the disease. Some of the treatments you could expect from your Chinese medicine practitioner would be:
This treatment involves the insertion of very thin needles (like a single strand of hair) into specific points of the body to produce the desired effect. The human body has many various significant points, some of which you would not guess are correlated. For example; the ear has multiple pressure points for relieving illness in different internal organs. What the practitioner is aiming to achieve through inserting needles into these points is the clearing of the relevant meridian channels to release the flow of blocked energy. In the case study mentioned above, “Neuro-anatomical (nervous system) acupuncture [was used] to directly stimulate the retina and periorbital tissue… [and] Auricular acupuncture (acupuncture points in the ear) to indirectly stimulate appropriate parts of the brain…” (Alston C. Lundgren, MD, 2005, para.5).
This method is very much like acupuncture treatment as the practitioner again attempts to clear the blocked channels, but instead uses pressure from their fingers and hands over the points rather than puncturing them with needles.
In this form of acupuncture treatment, after the needles are inserted into the various relevant points the practitioner will use “a device that generates continuous electric pulses using small clips. These devices are used to adjust the frequency and intensity of the impulse being delivered, depending on the condition being treated. Electroacupuncture uses two needles at time so that the impulses can pass from one needle to the other…” (Acupuncture Today, n.d., para. 2).
Another method of Electro-acupuncture is using “transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation…electrodes that are taped to the surface of the skin instead of being inserted” (Acupuncture Today, n.d., para. 3) which is very beneficial to those with an aversion to needles or those who have medical conditions that do not allow their skin to be needled.
Herbs used traditionally for Chinese medicine are very important to the practise as it is essential to have both external influences working towards your good health as well as internal nutritional assistance. Some of the most commonly used herbs for illness include herbs like cinnamon twigs, dandelion and ginger – all renowned for their healing properties. Benefits of these herbs include relief of digestive and stomach issues, support in fighting diabetes and skin infections, liver cleansing and heart protection as well as many more.
Through traditional Chinese medicine sufferers of both wet and dry macular degeneration have found the relief they desperately sought after without using unnatural forces to maintain their vision, as well as “better colour vision, less need for intense light/contrast, better night vision, less distortion, reduced scotoma size, and increased clarity of vision” (Alston C. Lundgren, MD, 2005, para. 13). Instead of constantly destroying living tissues in the eye with lasers to maintain a small amount of vision, acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine works towards clearing the eye of blockages and restoring balance to the body.
If you or a loved one has experienced any of the symptoms mentioned in the Macular Degeneration and Acupuncture series, please contact a health professional for a formal diagnosis. Then you can decide the best path of treatment on your own.
If you’re still unsure if you’re experiencing symptoms of this disease, test your eyes on this Amsler grid commonly used to diagnose Macular Degeneration:
- Macular Degeneration New Zealand. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://mdnz.org.nz/treatmentorg. (n.d.)
- Photodynamic Therapy (PDT). Retrieved from http://macula.org/photodynamic-therapy-pdt
- Free photos retrieved from https://www.pexels.com
- David L. Kent, National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2014. Age-related macular degeneration: Beyond anti-angiogenesis. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3888498/
- Alston C. Lundgren, MD. 2005. An Acupuncture Protocol For Treatment Of Age-Related Macular Degeneration: A Second Report. Retrieved from http://reverseamd.com/wp-content/themes/reverseamd/pdfs/LundgrenArticle2.pdf
- Acupuncture Today. (n.d.). Electroacupuncture. Retrieved from http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/abc/electroacupuncture.php
- Amsler Grid retrieved from http://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/amd.htm