It sounds too good to be true, but a Chicago doctor is reporting that a drug-like dietary supplement, or nutriceutical, called Longevinex -- which contains the purported anti-aging chemical resveratrol -- may control or even reverse the symptoms of wet macular degeneration, a severe form of visual impairment. If the results prove to hold up, the treatment would have a great advantage over existing ones, which require injection of chemicals directly into the eye. Longevinex, in contrast, can be taken orally.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of impaired vision and blindness in the elderly. It affects about 10% of people between ages 66 and 74 and as many as 30% of those 75 and over. The primary symptom of the condition is blurring in the center of the visual field, which makes reading and other tasks especially difficult. About 10% of patients with the condition have what is known as wet AMD, in which blood vessels proliferate in the eye, leaking and blocking vision. Clinical trials have shown that disease progress can be slowed by vitamins containing the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Treatment involves injection of angiogenesis inhibitors, such as Avastin or Lucentis, which block the formation of new blood vessels. About one in three patients treated early enough recovers sufficient vision for driving, but about one in six proceed to blindness. Many patients simply refuse to have the drugs injected into their eye.
Resveratrol, originally isolated from the skin of grapes, has been widely touted as an anti-aging chemical, but experiments in animals have produced varying results. Preliminary evidence suggests it is not as effective in humans, but some physicians recommend it nonetheless.
Dr. Stuart Richer of the University of Illinois at Chicago and the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago has been experimenting with resveratrol in age-related macular degeneration patients who have failed all other forms of treatment. He reported on three of the patients at a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., meeting of the Assn. for Research in Vision & Opthalmology.
One striking case involved an 88-year-old woman who other specialists said was beyond help. After just four days of treatment, Richer said, the woman regained her ability to see faces, read a menu and visualize her handwriting. Continuation of the treatment over several months also improved her chronic low blood pressure and tendency to develop migraines. A 75-year-old man with failing vision was purportedly able to renew his driver's license after taking just seven capsules of the drug.
Overall, Richer said, 16 of 17 patients given the drug showed improvements. Blind spots disappeared, time to recovery from glare was shortened and contrast vision and visual acuity improved after three to six weeks of treatment, he said. No patients were given placebos in the study, but a clinical trial comparing the drug to placebos will undoubtedly be necessary before researchers are willing to accept the results.
Richer said he has no financial interest in the company that makes Longevinex.