US researchers have not only discovered that high cholesterol levels can affect the immune system; they have also discovered that high levels of cholesterol may be a cause of macular degeneration. More to the point, they have discovered that eye drops meant to help lower cholesterol levels may actually prevent the condition that is the number one cause of blindness in the United States.
The medical journal Cell Metabolism published a study that used both mice and humans to prove that the immune cells grew harmful when they were clogged with excessive cholesterol. While some have cautioned that this study is still in the early stages, many other s believe that the findings look quite promising. The idea that eye drops to lower cholesterol levels could help treat macular degeneration is more than many people dare to hope for at this point.
The eye is made up of parts that help people to see clearly, and the macula is the part of the eye that helps to see intricate details. This helps us to recognize faces, read and even drive, so losing this part of the eye causes blindness. However, it isn’t something that usually happens quickly, so a person experiences a gradual progression toward a loss of sight, and for many who know that they have the disease and cannot stop it, it’s the daily progress that seems to be the most heartbreaking.
While most cases of this condition occur in old age, it does happen in younger people. The disease usually starts out “dry”. This is where the cells in the eye that sense light become damaged. When a person begins to grow blind from the condition, it is when the condition changes to the “wet” form of it. This is when blood vessels that are newly formed cause blindness quickly.
For the study, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine studied a part of the immune system called macrophages, during the evolution of macular degeneration from the dry to the wet stage. During the transition, it appears that the macrophages begin to change and generate new blood vessels.
In most cases, macrophages ingest the excess fat and expel it from the body, but researchers found that while older macrophages could still eat fat cells, they could no longer get rid of them. This caused the cells to become inflamed, and new blood vessels to be created. This study shows that high cholesterol may be the cause of macular degeneration. While it does not yet claim that people may be able to slow the progression or even prevent the development of macular degeneration by lowering their cholesterol levels, it does imply that this could be the case.
For many who have suffered with this condition, the study may be too little too late, but for those that might be beginning to experience the dry form of macular degeneration, the next phase of testing to determine if cholesterol lowering eye drops might hold the key to a treatment could not come soon enough.