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Acupuncture for Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration (also known as age-related macular degeneration or AMD) is a progressive degenerative eye disease affecting the center part of your vision. AMD is the most common cause of severe vision loss in people over age 50, and symptoms include: central vision loss, and difficulty reading fine print and seeing fine details of people's faces.

There are two types of macular degeneration: dry type (most common) and wet type. Dry AMD happens when the macula is deprived of blood flow, oxygen and nutrition. In response, the body starts to make new blood vessels to feed the starving macula. With wet AMD, the body builds new (but very fragile) blood vessels in an attempt to feed the macula, but because these new blood vessels are so thin and weak, they easily pop and bleed.

Because there is no cure in western medicine, patients with this disease often become fearful, defeated, and hopeless. This is why I feel the need for people to know that there is hope and acupuncture can help!

Acupuncture can help approximately 85% of patients with macular degeneration by restoring lost vision and preventing further vision loss and/or damage. Early stage ARMD often produces the most dramatic results. Acupuncture works by improving blood flow, oxygen, and nutrients to the macula as well as the organs of the body involved in the degenerative process. Specific acupuncture points are used to activate the visual cortex of the brain, and stimulate the retina and optic nerve. Acupuncture points for macular degeneration are mostly located along the eyebrows, hands, feet and ankles (not in the eyes). For added benefit, acupuncture is often combined with Chinese herbal medicine, nutrition, lifestyle changes, and natural supplements to address the many factors involved in macular degeneration.

In Chinese medicine, we assess each patient to identify their unique patterns of dysfunction to treat the underlying cause of their macular degeneration. The 3 most common patterns seen in macular degneration patients involve the heart, liver, and adrenals.

Heart-type macular degeneration

Heart disease and macular degeneration often go hand-in-hand because your eyes rely on good blood flow (pumped from your heart) for nourishment, healthy function, and clear vision. Many patients with macular degeneration have vascular problems and suffer with hypertension, high cholesterol, blood clots, or other cardiovascular diseases. Drusen (yellowish waste products that develop in the eyes of patients with macular degeneration) are very similar to cholesterol buildup and plaque in the arteries in patients with heart disease. Treatment of this type is focused on improving blood flow to the eyes and heart, and breaking down the drusen. For wet macular degeneration, Chinese herbs can be effective in helping to stop the bleeding.

Liver-type macular degeneration

In Chinese medicine, most eye diseases are correlated with a dysfunction of the liver. Excessive use of drugs, alcohol, and pharmaceutical medications all negatively affect the liver function and side-effects may include vision loss due to the drying nature of these substances. Macular degeneration can also occur in menopausal women as hormone levels decline, leading to increased demand on the liver. Chronic stress, anger and/or irritablity can also affect the liver, making patients more prone to eye disorders. This type of macular degeneration can be improved by focusing on stress management, diet, and lifestyle changes, with acupuncture and herbal medicine treatments to support liver function and restore moisture and nutrition to the eyes.

Adrenal-type macular degeneration

The adrenal glands are the two glands that sit on top of your kidneys. They secrete cortisol, your body's major stress hormone. The adrenals can become overtaxed by excessive amounts of stress, overwork, excessive sexual activity, and lack of sleep. Your adrenal function declines as you age and can prematurely decline by the factors just mentioned. Adrenal-type macular degeneration is either age-related or due to premature aging affecting the eyes, causing a decline in vision. Treatment is focused on anti-aging by supporting adrenal function and preventing futher vision loss. Adrenal stress index testing may be recommended to futher address and treat adrenal fatigue.

New Direction Natural Medicine's macular degeneration program consists of 12-20 initial treatments, twice per week for 6-10 weeks, followed by maintenance treatments 1-2 times per month. This comprehensive program includes acupuncture, microacupuncture, dietary and lifestyle recommendations, and customized Chinese herbal medicine and supplements if needed.

If you are someone you know has been diagnosed with macular degeneration, we would love to help. Dr. Stephanie Bartolotti, DACM, AP holds a doctorate in Acupuncture and Chinese medicine and an advanced certification training in MicroAcupuncture 48 for eye diseases from world-renowned Chinese medical opthalmology expert, Dr. Andy Rosenfarb.

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