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Macular degeneration: can it be averted by diet?

Macular degeneration is the primary cause of blindness in many countries today. Could it be, as asserted by a growing number of opthalmologists, that the likely cause of the disease is the Western trend to high consumption of vegetable oils? [This is fascinating! Ed]

Ophthalmologist and Associate Clinical Professor Emeritus, Chris A Knobbe, MD, presented a revolutionary nutritional hypothesis for the cause and treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) to colleague ophthalmologists and optometrists, at a CME Event held at the Good Samaritan Medical Center, in the Boulder, Colorado region in July 2017.

This event was hosted by the ophthalmology practice of the Eye Care Center of Northern Colorado. In this presentation, Knobbe proffered the hypothesis that AMD may develop and progress secondary to “Westernisation” of the diet, spelling out the details of how nutrient deficient, processed food-laden diets may lead not only to numerous “diseases of civilization”, but to AMD as well.

The fundamental hypothesis presented by Knobbe is founded upon the landmark and epic research of Weston A Price, published in 1939 and 1945.

Knobbe presented research conducted by he and nutrition researcher, Marija Stojanoska, MSc, in which proxy markers for processed food consumption were correlated to AMD prevalence in 25 nations. For those who believe that AMD may be related primarily to aging and genetics, this presentation promises to be jaw dropping!

This presentation and video production, view below, are supported by the Cure AMD Foundation, which is a non-profit, charitable organisation, founded to help prevent and treat macular degeneration through ancestral dietary strategy, advocacy, and scientific research.

How can macular degeneration be age-related when it’s a very recent phenomenon?

This is a question long asked by David Gillespie, Australian author who has been challenging nutrition orthodoxy for some years in his books and blog.

His first book, Sweet Poison, published in 2008 is widely credited with starting the current Australian wave of anti-sugar sentiment.  His most recent book, Toxic Oil, takes the arguments in Sweet Poison and extends them to the widespread use of seed oils in the modern diet.

Macular degeneration is the primary cause of blindness in Australia today. And evidence is mounting, he says, that the likely cause of the disease is consumption of vegetable oils.

He writes in this 2012 article: ‘Stop it or you’ll go blind…’

Macular degeneration is the primary cause of blindness in Australia today.  And evidence is mounting that the likely cause of the disease is consumption of vegetable oils.  But once again Australia’s Dietitians Association is on the side of the processed food industry instead of the consumer (or in this case, the patient).

Our eyes are exquisitely complex pieces of machinery which work much like a camera.  Light from the outside world hits the the retina at the back of our eye.  The macula is the centre of the retina. It is responsible for our detailed vision.  If our macula is damaged, we can no longer see fine detail, drive, read or recognise faces.

Macular degeneration begins in a layer of cells underneath the retina called the Retinal Pigment Epithelium (RPE). The RPE is responsible for transporting oxygen and other nutrients up to the retina and moving waste products down to the blood vessels underneath.

It also contains a specialised immune system which reacts to some of the more dangerous waste products produced by the macula.

When the RPE wasted disposal system fails, junk from the retina builds up underneath the RPE. These junk deposits, known as drusen, appear as yellow spots on the retina and are visible in a normal eye examination. 

As the disease progresses, vision loss happens because the RPE cells die (‘dry’ macula degeneration) or because the RPE cells fail to prevent blood vessels from growing into the retina (‘wet’ macula degeneration) from below the RPE.

The macula contains a high concentration of some of our most specialised hardware, the rod and cone cells that allow us to see in fine detail and in colour.  These cells are unusual in that they use polyunsaturated fats in their membranes rather than the saturated and monounsaturated fats used by most of the remainder of our cells.

If you’ve ever wondered what an essential fat (like omega-3 DHA) is essential for, there’s a big part of your answer.  The omega-3 DHA fats make up the outer segments of the light sensitive cells in the retina and are the most frequently replaced cell membranes in our body.

When these molecules are exposed to light they oxidise rapidly (this is thought to be an important part of how our light sensing cells work).   Normally oxidation is a very bad thing because of the waste products it produces (broken bits of fat molecules and free radicals).

But our body didn’t fall off the back of the potato truck yesterday.  The special immune system built into the RPE does a magnificent job of getting rid of all the junk, so the oxidation is not normally a problem.  That is unless we use the wrong kind of polyunsaturated fats.

Researchers have consistently found that people with macular degeneration have abnormally low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in their retina

Researchers have consistently found that people with macular degeneration have abnormally low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in their retina.  This has inspired many studies which look at the dietary fat breakdown of the participants.

As expected a lot of those trials have shown that when people are eating a diet high in fish (the principal dietary source of the correct omega-3’s) they tend to have less macular degeneration

But closer analysis of the figures has unearthed a very worrying exception.  They are only better off if they are also NOT eating omega-6 fats.  Indeed, people eating a diet high in omega-6 fats are twice as likely to have macular degeneration as those eating a diet low in those fats (regardless of how much omega-3 they are consuming).

We have known for at least two decades that our body isn’t that picky when it comes to omega-3 and omega-6 fats.  If we need an omega-3 polyunsaturated fat and the only one handy is omega-6 then our body just goes ahead and uses that.  And there’s no reason to suspect that our body isn’t doing exactly the same thing in our eyes….. Read the full article

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