I’ve had type 1 diabetes for 33 years this month and recently I had a not-so-positive review from my retinologist at my annual check-up. According to him, the sudden deterioration of the vessels in my one eye was almost inevitable for someone with type 1 over 30 years, and that the vast majority of long-time type 1’s will experience some degree of deterioration regardless of control.
I asked my retinologist what I should be doing to halt the progression of the retinopathy. He looked at my recent A1C’s and cholesterol values. Then he sort of shrugged and said that my numbers were already good and that I could try to have tighter glucose control. Meantime we would just keep watching that eye and wait.
Huh?? Where are all the advances in medical technology? Apparently in 2007 there is nothing medically we can do to halt the progress of early retinopathy. Naturally, this scared the bejesus out of me and also made me furious that complications may happen regardless of what I do.
So with nowhere else to turn I entered the shady realm of dietary supplements. I have a degree in chemistry and worked as a chemist briefly before switching career paths. There is not much clinical research on supplements in the United States. Mainly because pharmaceutical companies cannot get full patent protection on nutritional supplements so there is no incentive for research funding.
There are two dietary supplements that I think are most promising for improving or preventing retinopathy—benfotiamine and pycnogenol.
Benfotiamine is a lipid-soluble thiamine (vitamin B1) analog. Research has shown benfotiamine blocks three of the four major pathways leading to small blood vessel damage. Benfotiamine is now being tested on humans in the United States by Dr. Michael Brownlee and colleagues at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. It’s rare when I give credit to JDRF, but they are funding this research. I am taking 500 mg per day.
Pycnogenol is the number one prescription for retinopathy in France. It contains a compound calkled oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs) which have shown to reduce microaneurisms in the eye in European studies. I am taking 200 mg per day.
I am not sold on natural remedies by any means, but I am anxious to see what my report from the retinologist is in September.