Is Age-Related Macular Degeneration a Direct Result of Aging?
Last updated: April 2020
As we age, our body goes through various changes. These changes are normal and result from a number of factors. Exposure to external stressors, free radicals, and genetic damage—to name a few. Aging does not occur as a result of just one of these factors. Aging is the result of all of these working together. Normal physical changes can become unbalanced, causing conditions that are linked to these normal changes in aging.3
In other words, certain conditions are not a result of normal aging but are due to unbalanced stressors. This is why people are more at risk for disease as older adults. This is also why age-related disease does not occur in all older adults.
How does a body become imbalanced?
It is important to remember, that aging alone does not tip the scales to an unbalanced state. Your body has an amazing ability to balance itself, even when faced with chronic stressors. It is the additive nature of these stressors that changes this balance within the body, promoting disease. The amount, time exposed, and severity of these stressors are all components to promoting disease.
What elements have the potential to throw an aging body off balance? Smoking, increased cholesterol, stress, obesity, or high blood sugar all lead to long-term irritation. Genetic factors include the known fact that, as we age, all of us have changes that occur within our genes. This genetic damage through the years adds up, promoting chronic disease.4
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is not always a bad thing. It is the body’s normal response to injury, signaling your immune system to start the healing process. Inflammation is the body’s first response to fight off infection and illness.
Acute vs chronic inflammation
There are two types of inflammation — acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is your body’s short-term response to an injury or illness. With this response, chemicals and cells within your blood respond to the injury or illness.
Chronic inflammation is long-term and has a widespread impact on your body. This low-level inflammation can be from a real injury or illness or it can be from a perceived one. The inflammation system is alerted over time, only for the parts of the system to go nowhere.
Chronic inflammation and disease
Chronic inflammation has been linked to different diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).1,2,5
Age-related macular degeneration and inflammation
There are a few things to know when talking about AMD, inflammation, and aging.
- First, chronic low-grade inflammation increases with age. Inflammation has a purpose — it is the body’s attempt to bring it back into balance when exposed to those factors mentioned earlier (genetic changes, environment, etc.)
- Second, AMD is thought to be the result of this loss of balance. The start, progress, and outcome of this disease varies in everyone because of the differences in exposure to stressors and genetic changes.5
Aging is universal but age-related disease is not
Some age-related vision decline is a normal result of the aging process and can usually be corrected by wearing glasses. This type of vision loss in aging is not considered a disease.
In AMD, the part of the eye that controls vision begins to fail and causes a slow, painless loss of vision. AMD is the leading cause of vision loss among older adults in the United States. AMD results from the combination of both the normal process of aging and the abnormal stressors within the body. The body continues to send cellular responders in the absence of a real threat, which leads to damage of the eye. This process may lead to vision loss.2,4
While aging is universal, aging itself does not cause age-related disease—it simply sets a person up for that imbalance that causes disease.
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