By Dr. Mercola
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the deterioration of your macula (the region in your eye that controls acute vision), which typically occurs later in life.
AMD is the leading cause of blindness in the United States, as it can destroy your central vision, which is necessary for reading, driving and other daily functions. It's also the leading cause of permanent impairment of close-up vision in those aged 65 and older.
Aspirin Use Linked to the Most Severe Form of AMD
Certain lifestyle factors, such as smoking, are known to increase your risk of AMD, whereas exercising, maintaining normal blood pressure and eating a healthy diet may help prevent it.
With respect to supplements, emerging research strongly suggests that astaxanthin may be the single best supplement for the prevention and treatment of AMD. If you know anyone with this disease it would be helpful if you could share this important new information with them.
When engaging in preventive steps it is also wise to avoid common exposures that can increase your risk of disease. Researchers have now uncovered another potential factor that might actually increase your risk of not only AMD but the most severe form of it, known as neovascular macular degeneration: aspirin use.
As one of the most commonly used pain relievers, and also sometimes routinely prescribed for heart protection, aspirin is often thought of as completely “safe,” despite a laundry list of serious side effects.1
In the latest study, researchers found that regular aspirin use, defined as twice a week for more than three months, for 10 years increased participants’ risk of neovascular AMD. While the increase was relatively small, increasing risk from about 1 in 200 among all older Americans to 1 in 100 among aspirin users, it’s concerning given how widespread aspirin use has become.
Further, a separate study published last year also revealed a connection between frequent aspirin use and the development of AMD, with increasing frequency linked to increased risk.2
Are You Taking Aspirin for Heart Protection or Pain Relief? Try This Instead
If you're like most people, you probably wear shoes with rubber or plastic soles for the better part of each day. As a society we have been doing this for over 50 years. You probably don’t associate this with your level of pain or your cardiovascular health, but there very well could be a connection.
The problem is that wearing typical insulated shoes blocks your body’s natural connection to the Earth’s store of electrons, which is necessary for optimal health. The concept of earthing, also known as grounding, was initially developed by Clint Ober. Stated in the simplest terms possible, earthing is simply walking barefoot, grounding your body to the Earth.
Grounding or Earthing Has Many Uses
When you're grounded and directly connected to the earth there's a transfer of free electrons from the Earth into your body. And these free electrons are probably a very potent antioxidant source, likely far superior to aspirin or Plavix, the other commonly prescribed blood thinner that has also recently been shown to increase the risk of strokes. The electrons from the earth that serve asantioxidants are responsible for the clinical observations from grounding experiments, such as:
- Thinning of your blood, so much so that if you are on Coumadin and regularly ground you need to lower your dose of Coumadin.
- Beneficial changes in heart rate
- Decreased skin resistance
- Decreased levels of inflammation
It's thought that the influx of free electrons from the Earth's surface will help to neutralize free radicals and reduce both acute and chronic inflammation, which is at the root of many health conditions and accelerated aging. Grounding has even been found to provide relief from chronic muscle and joint pain, and other types of pain.3 As written in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine:4
"It is well established, though not widely known, that the surface of the earth possesses a limitless and continuously renewed supply of free or mobile electrons as a consequence of a global atmospheric electron circuit. Wearing shoes with insulating soles and/or sleeping in beds that are isolated from the electrical ground plane of the earth have disconnected most people from the earth's electrical rhythms and free electrons.
… A previous study demonstrated that connecting the human body to the earth during sleep (earthing) normalizes the daily cortisol rhythm and improves sleep. A variety of other benefits were reported, including reductions in pain and inflammation. Subsequent studies have confirmed these earlier findings and documented virtually immediate physiologic and clinical effects of grounding or earthing the body."
Grounding may even be beneficial after an injury. If you place your feet on the ground after an injury (or on a grounded sheet, or place grounding patches on the balls of your feet), electrons will migrate into your body and spread through your tissues. Any free radicals that leak into the healthy tissue will immediately be electrically neutralized. This occurs because the electrons are negatively charged, while the free radicals are charged positively, so they cancel each other out.
"So really what is happening with grounding or earthing is that you're protecting your body from -- I call it, collateral damage," Dr. James Oschman, an expert in the field of energy medicine, says. "Damage that was not intended to take place but does take place because we have disconnected ourselves from the Earth by putting rubber and plastic on the bottoms of our shoes."
How Grounding Might Benefit Your Heart
It has been more than a decade since I stopped recommending aspirin for the prevention of heart disease. The evidence in support of aspirin’s health benefits outweighing its health risks has always been quite weak, and over the last decade it has become even weaker.
In fact, it looks as though even low-dose aspirin, can do more harm than good because of serious side effects like intestinal injury and bleeding. Interestingly, the reason why aspirin has been recommended for heart attack prevention is because it reduces the clumping action of your blood clotting platelets, possibly preventing a heart attack. Grounding has a similar effect and has recently been discovered to help thin your blood, making it less viscous.
This discovery can have a profound impact on cardiovascular disease, which is now the number one killer in the world. Virtually every aspect of cardiovascular disease has been correlated with elevated blood viscosity.
It turns out that when you ground to the earth, the zeta potential of your red blood cells (a powerful measure of your blood viscosity or “thickness of your blood”) quickly rises, which means your red blood cells have more charge on their surface, which forces them apart from each other. This action causes your blood to thin and flow easier. It also disburdens you heart, causing your blood pressure to drop.
Another obvious implication of this is that by repelling each other, your red blood cells are less inclined to stick together and form a clot. Blood clots don't have to be very big to form a pulmonary embolus that would kill you instantly, so this is a significant benefit. Additionally, if your zeta potential is high, which grounding can facilitate, you not only decrease your heart disease risk but also your risk of multi-infarct dementias, where you start losing brain tissue due to micro-clotting in your brain.
Getting Yourself Grounded is Easy
The simplest way to ground is to walk barefoot outside. The ideal location for doing so is on the beach, close to or in the water, as seawater is a great conductor. Your body also contains mostly water, so it creates a good connection.
A close second would be a grassy area, especially if it's covered with dew, which is what you'd find if you walk early in the morning. According to Dr. Oschman, concrete is a good conductor as long as it hasn't been sealed. Painted concrete does not allow electrons to pass through very well. Materials like asphalt, wood, and typical insulators like plastic or the soles of your shoes, will not allow electrons to pass through and are not suitable for barefoot grounding.
Studies suggest that benefits such as pain relief and stress reduction may occur in just 30-80 minutes of barefoot time a day. This can obviously be a challenge during the winter, or if you live in an urban area without easy access to parks or other barefoot-friendly surfaces, so the other option is to use a grounding or Earthing pad, which allows you to get the benefits of the Earth's electrons even if you're indoors, especially when you're sleeping. I've been using one for several months now, especially when I travel by plane, as air travel is a suspected cause of weakening bio-electric currents.
So, like access to regular sun exposure, walking barefoot outside is a grossly neglected foundational practice that you can easily correct, and which will help you reduce your reliance on potentially damaging “alternatives” like regular aspirin use.
Tips for Reducing Your Risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
AMD is typically a gradual disease, and the condition may progress so slowly in some cases that you don't notice your vision worsening until it's too late. However, your eyesight does not have to worsen with age. Some of the best ways to protect your vision and prevent AMD include:
- Astaxanthin: This is the ultimate carotenoid for eye health and the prevention of blindness. It's even more powerful an antioxidant than both lutein and zeaxanthin, and easily crosses into the tissues of the eye and exerts its effects safely and with more potency than any of the other carotenoids. Specifically, astaxanthin may help ameliorate or prevent light-induced damage, photoreceptor cell damage, ganglion cell damage, and damage to the neurons of the inner retinal layers.
- Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats: Omega-3 fats may help protect and promote healthy retinal function. One type, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is concentrated in your eye's retina and has been found to be particularly useful in preventing AMD. Further, inflammation is likely involved in AMD progression, and omega-3 fats have anti-inflammatory effects. Research has shown those who had the highest intake of animal-based omega-3 fats had a 60 percent lower risk of advanced AMD compared to those who consumed the least.5
- Vitamin D: After receiving a vitamin D3 supplement for just 6 weeks, mice had improved vision and reductions in retinal inflammation and levels of amyloid beta accumulation, which is a hallmark of aging.6 The findings suggest vitamin D3 may help prevent AMD, and lend further support for optimizing your levels via safe sun exposure.
- Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Of all the carotenoids, only zeaxanthin and lutein are found in your retina, which has the highest concentration of fatty acids of any tissue in your body. This is because your retina is a highly light and oxygen rich environment, and it needs a large supply of free radical scavengers to prevent oxidative damage there. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, and also in egg yolks.
- Care for your cardiovascular system: High blood pressure can cause damage to the miniscule blood vessels on your retina, obstructing free blood flow. One of the primary ways to maintain optimal blood pressure is to avoid fructose. Research by Dr. Richard Johnson, chief of the division of kidney disease and hypertension at the University of Colorado, shows that consuming 74 grams or more per day of fructose (equal to 2.5 sugary drinks) increases your risk of having blood pressure levels of 160/100 mmHg by 77 percent!
- Normalize your blood sugar: Excessive sugar in your blood can pull fluid from the lens of your eye, affecting your ability to focus. And, it can damage the blood vessels in your retina, also obstructing blood flow. To keep your blood sugar in a healthy range, follow my comprehensive nutrition guidelines, exercise and avoid excess sugar, especially fructose.
- Eat plenty of fresh dark green leafy vegetables, especially kale: Studies have shown that a diet rich in dark leafy greens helps support eye health, and those with the highest consumption of carotenoid-rich vegetables, especially ones rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, had increased vision health.
- Avoid trans fats: A diet high in trans fat appears to contribute to macular degeneration by interfering with omega-3 fats in your body. Trans fat is found in many processed foods and baked goods, including margarine, shortening, fried foods like French fries, fried chicken and doughnuts, cookies, pastries and crackers.