Patient Education

Diseases

Age Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD)
Prevention
Gene therapy

Genetic researchers have been looking for a possible correlation between a genetic mutation and ARMD. They are attempting to distinguish genes that might cause ARMD so that they can develop possible strategies to prevent it. Recently genes that cause Stargardt's disease, an ailment affecting the retina, have been identified. Researchers decided to see if this same mutation appeared in ARMD patients who had no history of Stargardt's disease. In 16% of the cases it did, which leads them to believe that other mutated forms of the gene may exist. Once these are catalogued, researchers can hopefully begin developing gene therapy procedures. Unfortunately, this will not serve people already affected by ARMD. The use of gene therapy in relation to ARMD will only be available as a preventive measure.

Smoking

A recent study showed smokers to be approximately 2.5 times more likely to develop ARMD than nonsmokers. Even if a person had quit smoking almost two decades prior there still remained a twofold to threefold increase in the likelihood of developing ARMD. The underlying message is to not pick up the habit in the first place. Exercising preventive measures such as this can increase a person’s chance of avoiding ARMD.

Vitamin and zinc supplements

The body naturally produces several byproducts as a result of its metabolic activity. Some of these include molecular oxygen, peroxide, and superoxide, which are collectively referred to as oxidizers because they can readily accept electrons from other molecules. In some cases oxidations are a necessary part of the cellular process and in other instances they are potentially injurious.

To prevent cell damage, the body has a host of molecules called antioxidants, which bind harmlessly to oxidizers, preventing serious harm. With age, it is believed that the body does not produce antioxidants like it once did, leaving it susceptible to oxidative attacks. The eye contains large concentrations of molecular oxygen and it has been theorized that its oxidative qualities are partly at fault for the onset of ARMD. Therefore, doctors have been looking at vitamin therapy (A, C, and E) as a possible treatment or preventive measure because they possess antioxidant behavior. It isn't known if this is effective in preventing ARMD and caution must be exercised when taking large doses. Too much of anything, even if it is good, has the ability to cause harm.

Zinc is another element found throughout our bodies and is most heavily concentrated in the eye, especially in the retina and macula. It acts as a catalyst in over 100 enzymatic and chemical reactions that are vital to the retina. Like antioxidants, zinc levels appear to decrease gradually with age and many have correlated this with the advancement of ARMD. Consequently, researchers have been experimenting with zinc supplements to discourage ARMD's progression. Unfortunately, large doses of zinc are extremely damaging to the body and may interfere with the activity of copper (another trace element).

Studies concerning the effectiveness of vitamin and zinc therapies are currently inconclusive. Even if research proves these therapies to be effective in hindering ARMD, caution should be exercised in taking therapeutic doses. However, there are several multiple vitamins commercially available for ARMD patients. Despite this option, everyone should maintain a healthy diet that will adequately and safely provide these essential elements and may help prevent the manifestation of ARMD.