Natural Prevention for Diabetic Retinopathy

Can turmeric and its natural vitamins and nutrients help prevent or treat diabetic retinopathy? With progress lagging in conventional treatments, some researchers are looking to herbal remedies for safe and more effective alternatives. The search for solutions is especially urgent since the number of people with the condition is growing quickly. Studies suggest turmeric compounds could help delay the onset or progression of this common diabetic eye disease. (viii.73-7586)

What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common eye condition associated with diabetes. It's also the leading cause of blindness in American adults. The other two eye diseases associated with diabetes are cataracts and glaucoma(viii.7881)

Figure iii.1 The Eye

Figure VIII.1: The Eye

Chronic, progressive damage to the small blood vessels of the eye leads to diabetic retinopathy. Without treatment, damage promotes development of fragile blood vessels on the surface of the retina. In a process called diabetic macular edema, leaking blood from these weak capillaries and blockage by hard deposits on the retina then causes vision loss. (viii.7881)

Risk Factors for Diabetic Retinopathy

Not everyone with diabetes will have diabetic retinopathy, but many do. What increases the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy? Experts say the following are some of the factors that make it more likely: (viii.86)

All these factors increase free radicals and oxidative damage to the retina, which is already prone to damage because it is: (viii.81)

How Can Turmeric Help Diabetic Retinopathy?

Research shows that turmeric and its compounds can help alleviate the effects of diabetes and cardiovascular conditions(viii.34)

Turmeric compounds also work in many of the same ways researchers say conventional therapy for diabetic retinopathy works, including:

Table VIII.5: Turmeric Compounds Compared to Conventional Therapy Modes of Action for Diabetic Retinopathy


Block inflammatory molecules: (viii.86)

NSAIDs. (viii.86)

Salicylate-based drugs(viii.86)

Steroids. (viii.86)

Topical COX-2 inhibitors. (viii.86)

Etanercept, a TNF-α trap. (viii.86)

Infliximab, a TNF-α neutralizing antibody. (viii.86)

Inhibiting leukostasis & leakage: (viii.86)

NSAIDs. (viii.86)

Salicylate-based drugs. (viii.86)

Steroids. (viii.86)

Topical SAR 1118. (viii.86)

Anti-CD49a neutralizing antibody. (viii.86)

Blocking formation of AGEs(viii.86)

Aspirin. (viii.92)

LR-90 advanced glycation inhibitor. (viii.86)

PPAR-γ stimulating drugs (e.g., rosiglitazone and troglitazone). (viii.93)

Reduce oxidative stress(viii.86)

  • Quench excess free radicals.
  • Block NADPH oxidase (an enzyme that increases free radicals).
  • Increase natural antioxidant levels.

Apocynin. (viii.86)


Vitamin C and vitamin E(viii.86)

Block renin-angiotensin system (RAS) that increases blood pressure, free radicals, and inflammation in blood vessels(viii.86100)

Captopril (viii.86)

Candesartan (viii.86)

Enalapril (viii.86)

Lisinopril (viii.101)

Olmesartan (viii.86)

Talsartan (viii.86)

Telmisartan (viii.86)

Reduce formation of excess, abnormal blood vessels (angiogenesis) that lead to diabetic macular edema: (viii.101)

  • PPAR-γ, a protein important to metabolism and artery health, that can also help block the formation of abnormal blood vessels. (viii.103)
  • Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).
Intravitreal pegaptanib. (viii.101)

Pre-Clinical and Clinical Evidence of Benefit

Animal and clinical studies show the following potential benefits of turmeric compounds:

Table VIII.6: In Vivo Benefits of Turmeric Compounds for Diabetic Retinopathy
Alpha-linolenic acid (viii.4)
(an omega-3 fatty acid)
Ar-turmerone (viii.22)
Caffeic acid (viii.22)
Curcumin (viii.22)
Fisetin (viii.40)
Myricetin (viii.40)
Niacin (viii.46)
Protocatechuic acid (viii.39)
Resveratrol (viii.50)
Quercetin (viii.40)
Vitamin C (viii.46)
  • Antioxidant protection. (viii.30)
  • Blocks activation of NF-κB inflammatory proteins. (viii.53)
  • Some, but not all, population studies show a link between low plasma levels of vitamin C with higher incidence of diabetic retinopathy. (viii.109)
Vitamin E (viii.46)
  • Antioxidant protection. (viii.30)
  • Blocks activation of NF-κB inflammatory proteins. (viii.53)
  • Population studies don't show a link between vitamin E plasma levels and rate of diabetic retinopathy. However, a recently published small, randomized, controlled clinical trial suggest that vitamin E in combination with other antioxidants could help reduce free radical levels and preserve retina thickness in patients with diabetic retinopathy. (viii.109-110)
Whole turmeric extract
  • Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in diabetic animal studies. (viii.5763)
  • Promotes proteins that help prevent metabolic syndrome(viii.25)
  • Blocks development of abnormal blood vessels in animal studies. (viii.25)
  • When combined with other herbs and spices (e.g., holy basil, black pepper) in multiherbal Diabecon supplements, helped reduce fasting and regular blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes(viii.111)
  • Turmeric extract is one of the ingredients in a multiherbal eye-drop (Itone™), shown in animal studies to have significant anti-inflammatory effects. It also prevented formation of weak blood vessels. (viii.64)
  • In a clinical study involving 137 patients with diabetic retinopathy, combining a TCM formula containing turmeric with conventional diabetes drugs slowed progression of the disease. Measurements taken over the course of the 2-year study showed that those treated with the turmeric formula had significantly better treatment outcomes than the patients treated with conventional drugs only. (viii.112)
Glycyrrhiza glabra, G. uralensis(ii.15)
Black pepper is the dried, unripe seed of the woody Piper nigrum vine, white pepper is the dried ripe fruit with the outer part removed. (ii.15)
Holding cells together and helping them communicate. (iii.56)
Holding cells together and helping them communicate. (iii.56)
Holding cells together and helping them communicate. (iii.56)
Holding cells together and helping them communicate. (iii.56)
Perivascular contractile cells around small blood vessels in the eye. (viii.81)
However, one of its metabolites (quercetin-3'-sulphate) was found to stimulate VEGF receptors. (viii.81)
Enzyme that produces angiotensin II. (viii.100)
Such as aspirin, sodium salicylate, and sulfasalazine. (viii.86)
Excess immune-system molecules that increase inflammation and damage blood vessels. (viii.86)
Such as aspirin, sodium salicylate, and sulfasalazine. (viii.86)

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