Working in the field of ophthalmology for almost six years has shown me just how valuable sight is to a person. From tears shed over not being able to see the faces of their loved ones, to an intense anxiety that the world they know will go dark, each story is the same: Every person faced with an ocular condition greatly fears the unknown.
One of the most common conditions being diagnosed is Neovascular Age Related Macular Degeneration (NV AMD). There are treatments, but there is no cure and while ophthalmologists can keep this fire from spreading, there is no water to put it out.
You might be asking how this relates to the environment. This is a medical problem, not a “green” problem, right? The question I would be asking is: What are we being exposed to environmentally and chemically on a daily basis that may be increasing our risk of Macular Degeneration?
One toxin that comes to mind is mercury. While there are not many studies relating macular degeneration to mercury toxicity, it is something to be considered. We are exposed to mercury in several different ways and the exposure is worth examining further.
While there is no solid evidence that mercury toxicity and exposure is directly related to macular degeneration, there appears to be a small correlation between mercury and VEG-F. The particular type of mercury that Kempuraj, et. al (2010) used was one that is common in agents that we are exposed to.
If it is true that mercury can stimulate the VEG-F protein in inflammatory cells, is it possible that the rise in NV AMD may be due to some allergic reaction or exposure to even a slight amount of the chemical? Also, if one type of mercury can induce a reaction, is it possible that elemental and methylmercury exposure could also stimulate vessel growth?
It is recommended that people who have macular degeneration should eat fishes high in Omega 3s like salmon, tuna, and mackerel. However, these particular types of fish do accumulate mercury. The EPA Advisory gives more information about fish that should be avoided and consumed in small quantities. While fish are recommended for good health in general, what is the consumption of small amounts of mercury leading to?
The final and most important question remains: Does our environmental mercury exposure play a role in the increased number of NV AMD cases across the United States? I think it is worth studying further.
By Rachel Cicigline