Can one nutrient reverse eye damage caused by macular degeneration?

Volume 6    |    Issue 54

I hope you had a great 4th of July weekend. As you were watching those fireworks, you probably didn't think twice about your eyes. That is, unless you're beginning to have eye problems. What you may not realize is that a nutrient that can help you sleep great also plays an important role in eye health.

You probably know that melatonin can give you a wonderful night's sleep. But a new study shows just how important it is for your eyes.

The researchers started the study with a culture of human retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells. Then they exposed the cells to hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is a normal constituent of all cells. If you add certain minerals to it, the result can be the formation of an extremely damaging free radical called hydroxyl radical. The researchers found that exposing the cells to a 0.5 millimolar solution of hydrogen peroxide killed 71% of the cells. That's pretty scary.

But it didn't end there. The researchers then pretreated the cells with a 10-10 M concentration of melatonin. They used this concentration because it's the same concentration of melatonin found in the blood of people with healthy melatonin levels. When they did this, they found that, depending on the dose, melatonin was able to protect almost all the cells from being damaged by the hydrogen peroxide.

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Unfortunately, people with macular degeneration don't have healthy levels of melatonin. So the researchers wanted to know if that could be the very reason they get macular degeneration in the first place. So they looked at the levels of 6-sulphatoxymelatonin (a marker for melatonin levels) in the urine of macular degeneration patients. They found that their levels were a full 40% lower than people without the eye disease.

The researchers concluded that the low levels of melatonin in their blood could be the cause of their macular degeneration. That's an amazing finding! But these results are all in a lab. Do they work on real humans. The answer came from another study.

In this study, researchers looked at 55 patients with either wet or dry macular degeneration. They gave them 3 mg of melatonin every night. After just six months, every single one of the patients noticed that their visual acuity stayed stable. This proves that the melatonin can at least stop the progression of the disease. But that's not all.

The researchers also noticed that the people taking the melatonin had a remarkable “change of the fundus picture [the retinal picture].” According to the researchers, “The majority of the patients had reduced pathologic macular changes.” This is incredible! Most supplements will slow the disease's progression.

So if you have macular degeneration, consider taking at least 3 mg of melatonin every night before you go to bed. You can take more, but we don't have studies showing how much you should take for this disease. There's no known toxic dose, and many people take 20 mg daily. But this study shows 3 mg works very well. We don't know if melatonin can completely reverse macular degeneration, but these are the best results we've seen.

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Rosen, R.B., D.N. Hu, M. Chen, et al. “Effects of melatonin and its receptor antagonist on retinal pigment epithelial cells against hydrogen peroxide damage.” Mol Vis. 2012;18:1640-8. Epub 2012 June 20.

Tosini, G., K. Baba, et al. “Melatonin: an underappreciated player in retinal physiology and pathophysiology.” Exp Eye Res. 2012 October;103:82-9.

Yi C1, Pan X, Yan H, et al. Effects of melatonin in age-related macular degeneration. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2005 Dec;1057:384-92.

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