Atomic Level Self-Destruction

Hello, there! How are ya?

Last time I talked about the servants, retinal pigment epithelial cells, weakening and dying. This leads to the death of photoreceptors and our loss of central vision. So what is the problem with the RPEs? What is going on here?!?!

Macular degeneration...autoimmune?

They are amassing evidence that age-related macular degeneration is an autoimmune condition. We have met the enemy and he is us. (Pogo paraphrasing Oliver Hazard Perry, 1813).

According to the Mayo Clinic (and everyone else), an autoimmune disease is a disease in which the body’s defenses attack healthy cells. In other words, your immune system gets really confused! Friendly fire here.

Complement immune system

The part of the immune system that causes the problems is believed to be the complement immune system. Among the jobs of the complement system are causing inflammation, attacking the cell membranes of invading cells and eating up cell debris. The things that eat up cell debris are called macrophages. That literally means big eaters. (Have you ever noticed how everything sounds so much smarter said in Latin or Greek?)

So, a way to look at all this is: our eyes are being attacked by our own, crazed garbage men. Hmmmm. Now there is a visual for you.

Oxidative stress

Another mechanism that seems to lead to cellular destruction is oxidative stress. What is that? Get ready for another weird visual.

Those of you who had chemistry may remember that atoms have electrons. These electrons spin around the center of the atoms in layers called shells. Shells each have their happy number of electrons. If a shell does not have its happy number it can do one of three things. It can lose electrons. It can steal electrons or it can share electrons.

Horses and barnstalls

Now comes the weird visualization part of things. Think of electrons as horses and shells as barns with stalls. The stalls in each barn need to be full. To make his stalls full, the first rancher goes out to steal horses from his neighbor. Now the neighbor does not have his stalls all full, so he goes out to steal horses from a third rancher. And so on and so on. Chaos ensues. Horses get loose and run amok. Things get broken. It is a mess.

Free radicals

In your eye, basic metabolic process and things like sunlight can cause oxidative stress. Electrons can be pulled free and become free radicals. Free radicals are the runaway horses of the atomic world. They can cause a great deal of damage depending upon what they hit.

Attempting to corral free radicals

How to combat that? We can eat compounds that are called antioxidants. These antioxidants have spare stalls in their barns. They can go out and collect the free radical runaway horses. Once in a stall, these horses can’t do damage. This is the premise behind healthy eating and supplement theories.

The only problem with these theories is there are a lot more free radical runaway horses than antioxidants can introduce stalls for. In other words, the damage is going to happen. It just might happen more slowly.


So there are two reasons your RPEs are dying and not able to take care of your photoreceptors. However, there is one more thing I want to discuss. Show of many of you have ever heard of Drusen? Drusen are collections of metabolic waste that have been generated by your retinal cells. They play a big role in age-related macular degeneration.

Hold on. Metabolic waste in your eyes. Yep. Eye poop! And you thought I had written a page without that word. Silly you! ;)

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