Age-related macular degeneration, (AMD), is the leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 10 million people in the United States alone. Traditional treatments require injections into the eye and other complex surgeries and modalities, but they often leave patients in additional need for relief.

Dr. Carol Wentz Randaci at AiZen Healing Center in Sarasota says the symptoms of those with macular degeneration can be improved and even prevented by using alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, found in Eastern medicine. She is one of the few practices in Florida to offer these treatments for the condition.  "The approach is quite different from biomedicine. We evaluate how the entire system is functioning rather than the reductionist approach of biomedicine," says Randaci. "Oriental medicine is a wholistic approach."

After performing a basic eye assessment, pH and iridology exam, a doctor places acupuncture needles in various parts of the head and eye area--not in the eye--stimulating blood flow to the retina and macula, the part of the eye affected by macular degeneration. The needles are placed in a shallow manner to sensitive areas and deeper into fatty tissue. Patients should only feel a pinch.

AiZen's program consists of 20 treatments administered over the course of 10 days. Two sessions per day are scheduled, each lasting about 45-50 minutes in length. According to Randaci, about 75 percent to 80 percent of researched patients have had some improvement in their vision within the first round of 20 acupuncture treatments. Benefits can last a few months to years after the treatment program, she says.

"Follow-up treatments are needed to help maintain blood flow to the area," says Randaci. "The ideal candidate for this treatment is someone looking to prevent macular degeneration from occurring, but those who already have an advanced case can benefit in relief of symptoms such as central vision acuity."

Although few practices offer this alternative treatment, there is some evidence by the traditional medical community that these methods have shown improvement in patients. Five hundred cases of treated eye diseases, including macular degeneration, were studied in a 2014 review by the Clinical and Experimental Optometry medical journal. The review found that acupuncture as a treatment modality was successful for many patients, including improvement of central acuity. While macular degeneration was not reversed in these patients, the study found that acupuncture acts on the macula alone, not the entire eye, thus relieving symptoms.

"There are also nutritional guidelines and lifestyle changes that work with the treatment to improve your eye health," says Randaci. These include eating a vegan, whole foods, plant-based diet; movement and de-stressing through meditation; taking herbal formulas and vitamins A, C and E, and minerals zinc, selenium and lutein prescribed by your practitioner; and detoxification of environmental influences, also conducted by your naturopathic practitioner.

Randaci's treatment can be done in addition to traditional macular degeneration treatments and these lifestyle changes. 

While Medicare and private insurance do not typically cover acupuncture, some companies provide partial coverage based on the medical need. AiZen Healing Center's 20-treatment program costs $2,250. This includes a therapeutic body work session, two alternative medicine formulas or a traditional botanical formula for the eyes.  AiZen Healing also has 24-hour support services and telehealth options that may be more affordable to patients.

"Age-related macular degeneration is a neurodegenerative condition that is said to be incurable," says Randaci. "We do not agree with this prognosis. We focus on how to support the correction of any debilitation. The health care systems of Oriental naturopathic medicine offer many ways we can work with the illness to recover, slow or halt further degeneration of your vision."

AiZen Healing Center is located at 3348 17th St., Sarasota. For more information, click here or call (941) 284-8894.

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