There are two forms of macular degeneration: atrophic (dry) and exudative (wet). Approximately 85-90% of the cases are the dry type. Both forms of the disease may affect both eyes simultaneously. Vision can become severely impaired, with central vision rather than peripheral vision affected. The ability to see color is generally not affected, and total blindness from the condition is rare.
There is little that can be done within conventional medical treatment protocols to restore lost eyesight with either form of the disease. Leading researchers, however, are documenting the benefits of a more holistic approach in the treatment of AMD. Patients are encouraged to increase physical fitness, improve nutrition (including a reduction in saturated fats), abstain from smoking, and protect their eyes from excessive light. Dietary supplementation of trace elements, antioxidants, and vitamins is recommended for improving overall metabolic and vascular functioning. Early screening and patient education offer the most hope for reducing the debilitating effects of the disease.
In the dry type of macular degeneration, the retina deteriorates in association with the formation of small yellow pigment-like deposits, called drusen, that form under the macula. The formation of these deposits leads to a thinning and drying out of the macula. Vision loss is related to the location and amount of retinal thinning caused by the drusen.
The dry type of macular degeneration tends to progress more slowly than the wet type, with vision being lost painlessly. The first symptom is usually a distortion in one eye, causing straight lines to look wavy. Blank spots will occur as the macula continues to degenerate. A vision test will sometimes reveal physical deterioration before symptoms occur.
A double-blind, case-controlled study showed that those with macular degeneration had decreased intake of vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, vitamin B6, and folic acid. This study identified 14 specific antioxidant components that could stabilize, but not improve, dry macular degeneration when consumed for a period of 1.5 years (Richer 1996).