Return your retinas to better health. If you have diabetes or
high blood pressure, your eyes could be at greater risk. According to research or other
evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful:
- Load up on antioxidants
- Under a healthcare provider’s supervision take 500 mcg of
selenium, 1,800 IU of vitamin E, 10,000 IU of vitamin A, and 1,000 mg of vitamin C daily to
combat free radicals associated with diabetic retinopathy
- Get to know proanthocyanidins
- Slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy by taking a daily
supplement containing 150 mg of these powerful plant nutrients
- Bring home the bilberry
- Strengthen blood vessels in the eye and improve vision with this
herbal remedy; take 320 mg a day of an extract standardized for 25% anthocyanosides
- Say good-bye to smoking
- Kick the habit to lower the risk of diabetic retinopathy
These recommendations are not comprehensive and are not intended to replace
the advice of your doctor or pharmacist. Continue reading the full retinopathy article for
more in-depth, fully-referenced information on medicines, vitamins, herbs, and dietary and
lifestyle changes that may be helpful.
The term retinopathy indicates damage to the retina at the back of the eye. Several
conditions, such as type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure, can lead to the development of
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What are the symptoms?
Retinopathy often has no early warning signs. If retinopathy progresses, partial or total
blindness may result.
In treating advanced retinopathy, doctors may use laser surgery to shrink abnormal blood
vessels at the back of the eye. This treatment results in a loss of some peripheral (side)
vision, a sacrifice that preserves the remaining field of vision. Laser surgery for
retinopathy may also reduce color and night
vision. A surgical alternative to laser surgery, called vitrectomy, is sometimes used if
the eye has become cloudy due to hemorrhage (bleeding). Vitrectomy replaces the vitreous humor
(transparent fluid in the interior of the eyeball behind the lens) with a salt solution.
Dietary changes that may be helpful
Animal studies suggest that dietary fructose may contribute to the development of
retinopathy.1 Although such an association has not been demonstrated in humans,
some doctors advise their diabetic patients to avoid foods containing added fructose or
high-fructose corn syrup. Fructose that occurs
naturally in fruit has not been found to be
Lifestyle changes that may be helpful
In a study of people with diabetes,
cigarette smoking was found to be a risk factor for the development of
retinopathy.3 In a study of people with type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes, those who
maintained their blood sugar levels close to the normal range had less severe retinopathy,
compared with those whose blood sugar levels were higher.4 Tighter control of
blood-sugar levels can be achieved with a medically supervised program of diet, exercise, and,
when appropriate, medication.
Vitamins that may be helpful
Free radicals have been implicated in the
development and progression of several forms of retinopathy.5 Retrolental
fibroplasia, a retinopathy that occurs in some premature infants who have been exposed to high
levels of oxygen, is an example of free radical-induced damage to the retina. In an analysis
of the best published trials, large amounts of
vitamin E were found to reduce the incidence of severe retinopathy in premature infants by
over 50%.6 7 Some of the evidence supporting the use of vitamin E in the
prevention of retrolental fibroplasia comes from trials that have used 100 IU of vitamin E per
2.2 pounds of body weight in the form of oral supplementation.8 Use of large
amounts of vitamin E in the prevention of retrolental fibroplasia requires the supervision of
Vitamin E has also been found to prevent retinopathy in people with a rare genetic disease
known as abetalipoproteinemia.9 People with this disorder lack a protein that
transports fat-soluble nutrients, and can therefore develop deficiencies of vitamin E and
In one trial, vitamin E failed to improve vision in people with diabetic
retinopathy,10 although in a double-blind trial, people with type 1 diabetes given very high amounts of vitamin E
were reported to show a normalization of blood flow to the retina.11 This finding
has made researchers hopeful that vitamin E might help prevent diabetic retinopathy. However,
no long-term trials have yet been conducted with vitamin E in the actual prevention of
Because oxidation damage is believed to play a role in the development of retinopathy, antioxidant nutrients might be protective. One
doctor has administered a daily regimen of 500 mcg selenium, 800 IU vitamin E, 10,000 IU vitamin A, and 1,000 mg vitamin C for several years to 20 people with diabetic
retinopathy. During that time, 19 of the 20 people showed either improvement or no progression
of their retinopathy.12 People who wish to supplement with more than 250 mcg of
selenium per day should consult a healthcare practitioner.
Low blood levels of magnesium have been
found to be a risk factor for retinopathy in white people with diabetes,13 14 but not in black
people with diabetes.15 So far, no studies have determined whether supplementing
with magnesium would help prevent the development of retinopathy.
One study investigated the effect of adding 100 mcg per day of vitamin B12 to the insulin injections of 15 children with diabetic
retinopathy.16 After one year, signs of retinopathy disappeared in 7 of 15 cases;
after two years, 8 of 15 were free of retinopathy. Adults with diabetic retinopathy did not
benefit from vitamin B12 injections. Consultation with a physician is necessary before adding
injectable vitamin B12 to insulin.
Quercetin (a flavonoid) has been shown to inhibit the enzyme,
aldose reductase.17 This enzyme appears to contribute to worsening of diabetic
retinopathy. However, because the absorption of quercetin is limited, it is questionable
whether supplementing with quercetin can produce the tissue levels that are needed to inhibit
aldose reductase. Although human studies have not been done using quercetin to treat
retinopathy, some doctors prescribe 400 mg of quercetin three times per day. Another
flavonoid, rutin, has been used with success to treat retinopathy in preliminary
Proanthocyanidins (OPCs), a group of
flavonoids found in pine bark, grape seed, and other plant sources have been reported in
preliminary French trials to help limit the progression of retinopathy.19
20 In one controlled trial, 60% of people with diabetes taking 150 mg per day of OPCs
from grape seed extract had no progression of retinopathy compared to 47% of those taking a
Preliminary studies have reported improved vision in people with various diseases of the
retina who took 45 mg per day of
Are there any side effects or interactions?
Refer to the individual supplement for information about any side effects or interactions.
Herbs that may be helpful
Bilberry extracts standardized to contain
25% anthocyanosides have been suggested as a treatment for people with early-stage diabetic or hypertensive retinopathy. In a small preliminary
trial, people with various types of retinopathy, including diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration, were given 600 mg of bilberry
extract per day for one month.23 While researchers found that the tendency to
hemorrhage in the eye was reduced and that blood vessels were strengthened, there were no
reports of improved vision. A small double-blind trial found that 160 mg of bilberry extract
taken twice per day for one month led to similar improvements in blood-vessel health in the
eye and slightly improved vision in people with diabetic and/or hypertensive
retinopathy.24 Larger and longer clinical trials are needed to establish the
effectiveness of bilberry for treating retinopathies.
The use of 160 mg per day of a standardized extract of Ginkgo biloba for six months has been reported in
a small double-blind trial25 to improve impaired visual function in people with
mild diabetic retinopathy.
Are there any side effects or interactions?
Refer to the individual herb for information about any side effects or interactions.
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