Retinitis pigmentosa (RP), also called rod cone dystrophy, is an inherited degenerative eye disorder which affects the retina’s ability to respond to light. It results in progressive loss of vision, eventually leading to blindness. The retina has two photoreceptors - rods and cone. In RP, the rods are outer ring of the retina and usually be affected first causing peripheral and night vision loss. The cones are in the center, which will eventually be degenerated in later stages, making harder to see colors and fine details. Symptoms usually begin at a young age and progresses slowly over period of time (10 - 40 years). There is no cure for Retinitis pigmentosa in conventional medicine, although there are medications, gene therapy, or retinal implant that may slow vision loss. (1)
How does acupuncture work for RP?
Acupuncture increases blood flow to the eyes which increase oxygen and vital nutrients that allow for cellular respiration and nourishment. We also know that acupuncture can stimulate the visual cortex, which is the part of the brain where vision is processed. Proper circulation also ensures that waste products are eliminated as well. Toxic accumulation is a MAJOR issue with RP, Rod Cone dystrophy and Usher’s Syndrome.
All cells need oxygen and food to survive. When the air and food supply is cut off, the cells will become ill and die. Once a nerve cell is dead, it’s lost forever. Nothing can bring it back.
Acupuncture stimulates and wakes up dormant nerve cells. Some cells are dead and others are sleeping. Acupuncture provides a global stimulus of the retinal and optic nerve and wakes the cells up, restoring them to function.
Acupuncture increases cellular energy output in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) within the mitochondria. Metabolic process seems to weaken and break down in RP patients. The process is called the mitochondrial dysfunction with low cellular ATP output. That is one of the big issues that occur with RP and in some other eye conditions as well. The mitochondria are cells “Power House” where energy is produced. No energy produced means no visual function and diminished photoreceptor activity.
Therefore, acupuncture increases blood flow, stimulates nerve cells, arouses dormant cells, regulates the ATP mitochondrial function, and stimulates the brain’s visual cortexes.
Benefits of acupuncture and Chinese medicine
There are three main factors that cause degeneration -Inflammation, Oxidative stress, and Poor Circulation. Treatments for retinitis pigmentosa with acupuncture and herbal medicine have demonstrated positive clinical outcomes in several studies. (2)
Acupuncture is the best option to help with circulation and to some degree, inflammation. Chinese herbs can help support and improve circulation and cool down the inflammation. Antioxidants, a clean diet and stress management will help with lowering oxidation levels.
Chinese herbs have unique properties and can do wonders in certain situations. Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine are the backbone of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Acupuncture treatment plan for RP
We’ll do some preliminary vision testing before we start, to establish a baseline. Then we’ll do five days of treatment, usually twice a day, using acupuncture, electro-acupuncture, micro-acupuncture. I also recommend supplements to help feed the starving retinas. After the five-day series, we retest because we want to confirm that there’s a positive, measurable response- both objectively and subjectively. Subjectively means the patient communicates that they’ve seen improvements, and, objectively, we see clear measurable improvement on the visual field, visual acuity, contrast sensitivity and color vision.
That first week, all we are looking for is any positive indicator that they are a responder. If there’s a positive indicator, then we continue for a second week, if not we discontinue.
The first year is important because we usually see nerve regeneration during the first eight - fifteen months. After that, whatever we’ve most likely maxed-out, whatever vision we are able to recover, usually three-four times in the first year. Then the treatment strategy moved towards stabilization and preservation of vision - usually one-three times per year.
It is a case-by-case situation, but generally, we recommend two or three times a year the first year and then maybe twice a year for ongoing maintenance.
What Western diagnostic tests should we do?
We usually recommend that patients get the following tests:
1- Visual Field Perimeter 5- Ocular Coherence Tomography (OCT)
2- Contrast Sensitivity 6- ERG (for RP/RCD)
3- Color Vision 7- Tonometry (eye pressure)
4- Visual Acuity 8- Dark adaptation tests (if possible).