Keeping ourselves in the best possible shape is something we all try to do. But sometimes, we don’t have complete control over what happens with our bodies.
So, what do you do when you inherit a disease or an ailment genetically? How do you react and, most importantly, how can you diminish its effects?
Stargardt’s disease is one of these ailments. It affects one in 10,000 people, altering their central vision. It’s a degenerative disease, and in most cases, it develops to the point of legal blindness.
What Causes It and How Is It Inherited?
The cause is a gene mutation that gradually deteriorates the photo-sensitive cells in the macular area, where the fine focus occurs. This means that the peripheral vision and the night vision of the patient are not affected.
The patient inherits the mutated genes from their parents, who can be mere carriers of the recessive genes. Simply put, parents with 20/20 vision can still give birth to a baby with Stargardt’s disease.
If both partners are carriers, there are:
- 1 in 4 chances they have a baby who suffers from the disease,
- 1 in 2 chances that their baby carries the genes, as well, and
- 1 in 4 chances the baby is completely healthy.
However, if one of the parents is a sufferer, there is a 50% chance the baby will get the disease, as well.
What Are the Symptoms and How Is It Diagnosed?
The disease spawns before the age of 20, and two of the most visible symptoms are the decrease in color perception and changes in the central vision. These changes affect both eyes and can result in blind or colored spots, blurry vision, and trouble adapting to dim light. As time goes by, they will find it harder to read, watch TV, and even look at someone else’s face.
The most critical part of diagnosing the disease is the yellowish spots observed in the macula. These flecks are abnormal clumps of lipofuscin, a fatty substance that kills the photoreceptors and impairs the vision.
To diagnose the disease correctly, the doctor runs a few tests that envision the patient’s visual field and the color acuity, as well as a tomography and electroretinography.
How Quickly Does It Degenerate?
The visual acuity standard is set to 20/20. In Stargardt’s disease, it drops to 20/40. From that point on, it can unfortunately only take a few months to reach 20/200. Ultimately, the degree of vision loss will stabilize between 20/200 and 20/400 by the time the patient is 40 years old.
How Do You Treat It?
Unfortunately, there is no Stargardt’s disease cure per se, but specialists are researching stem cells and gene therapies.
The stem cell therapy is based on immature cells that can generate mature cells in the body, including the photoreceptors that are affected by Stargardt’s disease.
So far, contact lenses, eyeglasses, and surgery have proven themselves unuseful in correcting the vision loss.
On the other side of the coin, it’s mandatory that you protect your eyes both from strain and light (especially from blue light rays). On this note, wearing UV blocking sunglasses outdoors can delay the process of vision loss, while low vision devices like magnifiers or microscopes also help cope with the issue. Also wearing a pair of blue light blocking glasses while on the computer, your smartphone, or while watching TV will help block harmful blue light.
An additional conservative measure to take would be to start adding spinach to your diet daily. We recommend a green smoothie daily to help with this. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in spinach (along with other leafy vegetables), and it is believed that these carotenoids help protect the macula from blue light. A supplement can also be taken that contain lutein and zeaxanthin.
Are There Any Contraindications?
A patient with Stargardt’s disease should refrain from foods that contain Vitamin A. Although it’s essential to eye health, in this case, it can be toxic, as the eye cells do not metabolize it as they usually should.
At the same time, smoking and inhaling secondhand smoke is believed to contribute to the problem. The toxins coming from the smoke annihilate the effects of the antioxidants, which have the main purpose of detoxifying the body. When the antioxidants are blocked, the toxins accumulate in the entire body, affect all the cells – including the photoreceptors in your eye.
On the same note, good nutrition coming from fresh foods helps your body recover faster and possibly delay the onset. People suffering from the disease should check with their doctors for an adapted nutrition program.
What Should You Do?
If you suspect that you or somebody you know suffers from Stargardt’s disease, the best thing to do is to get a test. The sooner you are aware of the possible diagnosis, the higher chances you have to slow down the effects.