Reducing Inflammation to Save Vision

October 05, 2012

If you burn yourself, bump your head, get bitten by an insect or twist an ankle, the injured area becomes inflamed. While the swelling and redness associated with inflammation can be uncomfortable and disconcerting, they are actually a good thing – your body’s attempt to protect, repair and heal itself. At the site of the injury, your body is increasing blood flow and engaging immune-system proteins and cells to remove damaged tissue, fight infection and initiate healing. It’s a complex, yet elegant, process.

However, chronic inflammation can be destructive and is associated with a number of disabling conditions, including cardiovascular disease, arthritis and Alzhemier’s disease. The body’s sustained attempt to heal itself ultimately leads to significant collateral damage.

Two recent scientific papers from a research group in Japan provide insightful reports on chronic inflammation related to retinitis pigmentosa (RP). In one paper, the researchers describe how they sampled fluids from the eyes of people affected with RP and determined that 37 percent had chronic inflammation. Furthermore, increased inflammation correlated with decreased visual function. Younger patients, in whom the disease was more active, tended to have more inflammation.

In the second paper, the investigators reported they were able to significantly reduce inflammation and the loss of photoreceptors – the cells that provide vision – by treating mice with RP with a drug called N-acetylcysteine (NAC).

In the United States, Dr. Peter Campochiaro, a scientist from Johns Hopkins University, is evaluating NAC and related drugs as potential treatments for humans with RP and possibly other retinal degenerations. His goal is to move NAC into a human study.

NAC is widely known for its anti-oxidative properties, which reduce the stress on the body caused by disease and injury. It is also used to treat acetaminophen overdose.

Retinal researchers have also studied other commonly prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, for treating retinal degenerations, but those haven’t worked.

You can naturally help prevent chronic inflammation throughout your body by not smoking, eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables and getting exercise and rest.