Prozac 'could treat eye condition that affects half a million people'

The depression pill that may save ageing eyes: Prozac could treat eye condition that affects half a million people, analysis suggests

Prozac may be the first treatment for an eye condition that affects more than half a million people in the UK, causing blurred or restricted vision.

That’s the suggestion from data analysis which revealed that people who regularly take the antidepressant are 15 per cent less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Animal research by the same team of scientists who analysed the data also found that the drug — which costs £2 a pill — slows down the rate at which AMD progresses.

The researchers suggest the findings could lead to the widely available drug becoming the first treatment for the dry form of AMD.

The condition, which mostly affects people from their 50s and 60s, is caused by damage to the retina, the layer of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye that sends images to the brain.

Prozac may be the first treatment for an eye condition that affects more than half a million people in the UK, causing blurred or restricted vision

Prozac may be the first treatment for an eye condition that affects more than half a million people in the UK, causing blurred or restricted vision

There are two forms; dry and wet AMD. In the dry form, which accounts for around nine out of ten cases, there is a slow deterioration of the cells in the central part of the retina, an area called the macula, often over many years, as the retina cells die off and are not renewed as we age.

Wet AMD is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels at the back of the eyes and happens much faster as blood vessels leak fluid or blood into the macula. Drugs can help stop the growth of these blood vessels by blocking signals the body sends to generate new blood vessels.

Both forms of AMD can make actions such as reading and recognising faces difficult.

While some or all central vision may be affected by both types, peripheral vision remains normal. When, for example, someone with AMD looks at a clock face, they may see the numbers but not the hands.

And straight lines, such as doors, or lampposts, may appear wavy, bent or distorted. The exact cause of dry AMD is unknown, although it hass been linked to smoking, high blood pressure, being overweight and a family history of the condition.

While some or all central vision may be affected by both types, peripheral vision remains normal. When, for example, someone with AMD looks at a clock face, they may see the numbers but not the hands

While some or all central vision may be affected by both types, peripheral vision remains normal. When, for example, someone with AMD looks at a clock face, they may see the numbers but not the hands

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine examined data from more than 100 million adults and found a 15 per cent reduced risk of AMD among those who had been prescribed fluoxetine (brand name Prozac), according to results published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.

Follow-up animal research confirmed the drug slowed sight loss by sticking to immune system compounds called inflammasomes. These are thought to trigger inflammation that leads to the breakdown of the surface layer of the retina. Researchers suggest the drug could either be taken as a daily pill or packed inside a slow-release implant in the eye.

Commenting on the research, Gwyn Williams, a consultant ophthalmologist at Singleton Hospital, Swansea, said: ‘This is certainly an interesting finding.

‘AMD is arguably one of the biggest health challenges facing us. Human trials would indicate if there’s any clinically relevant discovery here, and we must remember that antidepressants have side-effects, so any benefits would need to be significant enough to outweigh the risks.’

The spice curcumin, a component of turmeric, could be effective against the dry form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), reports the journal Neural Regeneration Research.

Researchers from Madrid University reviewed evidence for a wide range of plants and natural products that have been studied as treatments for AMD, including saffron, ginkgo, bilberry and blueberry, curcumin, turmeric, and vitamins C and E.

The researchers said that, of these, curcumin had stronger evidence to support its use but clinical trials are needed.

When a solar flare is to blame for your cold 

Your risk of catching a cold might be greater on days when there are solar flares or other variations in the sun’s activity, suggests a Harvard University study.

When scientists compared 13 years of weather data with details of people’s white blood cell counts (a measure of immune activity) over the same period, they found that increased solar wind and fluctuations in the earth’s magnetic field were associated with a lower white cell count.

Writing in the journal Environmental Research, scientists linked this effect to the changes ‘solar and geomagnetic activity’ had on the body clock.

Combining opioid painkillers with a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine could stop patients becoming addicted to the drugs, suggests a study from California University in the U.S. When the plant extract was given with morphine, it prevented the activation of a brain receptor linked to addiction while still relieving pain, reports the journal Pharmaceuticals.

Ice cube treatment for loss of taste after Covid

Sucking an ice cube is being tested as part of a four-pronged approach to tackle loss of taste and smell after having Covid-19.

In an eight-week trial led by the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia, patients will be given insulin (thought to regenerate nasal receptors), zinc (to boost taste) and gabapentin (to block electrical signals from damaged taste and smell receptors).

They will also be asked to put a small ice cube in their mouth for a minute, three times a day (to stimulate the taste buds).

Sucking an ice cube is being tested as part of a four-pronged approach to tackle loss of taste and smell after having Covid-19

Sucking an ice cube is being tested as part of a four-pronged approach to tackle loss of taste and smell after having Covid-19

Water-jet pen to take your blood instead of needle

Engineers in New Zealand have developed a needle-free device that uses mini jets of water to check blood sugar.

The technology was originally devised as a way to deliver medication — the short, stubby pen-like device produces a thin but powerful stream of water that has been proven to administer anaesthetic in liquid form 20mm into the skin.

Now the scientists at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute have demonstrated it also works almost as effectively as a standard needle, according to the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, with the jet of water strong enough to break the skin as a lancet would.

The researchers hope the same device can also inject insulin.

Hi-tech gel can speed up knee op recovery

A gel that sets when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light speeds up healing of damaged knee cartilage by acting as a scaffold for cells to grow on.

Cartilage acts as a shock-absorber in joints but can’t regenerate naturally. New cartilage cells can be surgically implanted into the damaged area but they tend to migrate.

The new gel is designed to solve this problem. Once loaded with new cartilage cells, the gel is inserted via keyhole surgery. UV light is then applied to trigger the hardening process, securing the cells in position.

A recent animal study at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, published in the journal Science Advances, found that following treatment with the gel, cartilage problems healed well within six months.

Revolting remedies 

Medical treatments that might make your stomach turn. This week: Letting blood to reduce iron levels

In the medieval era, blood letting was used as a treatment for everything from epilepsy to gout — these days it is used to reduce iron levels in the blood, or to treat those with thicker blood owing to extra red blood cells. But where it once involved cutting a vein and letting it bleed, the process is now the same as giving blood.

‘The treatment is known as therapeutic venesection and it includes the removal of around 450 ml of blood from a vein — usually in the elbow,’ explains Dr Jonathan Cullis, a consultant haematologist at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust.

Therapeutic venesection is most commonly used to treat genetic haemochromatosis, which affects about 250,000 Britons (although not all need treatment) and causes an iron build-up in the blood. This can lead to liver scarring and heart failure. Blood letting is initially done weekly for a year, then four times a year.

Try this

The Bath Alchemist Apple Cider Vinegar Wellness Tonic No 2 is infused with turmeric and ginger. The infusion preserves ‘the mother’, a sediment that contains gut-friendly bacteria — £12.95, 240ml, thebathalchemist.com 

Secrets of an A-List body

How to get the enviable physiques of the stars. This week: Amanda Holden’s biceps

Amanda Holden showed off her toned biceps as she took a bracing dip in the sea at the weekend

Amanda Holden showed off her toned biceps as she took a bracing dip in the sea at the weekend

Amanda Holden showed off her toned biceps as she took a bracing dip in the sea at the weekend. 

The 50-year-old swears by yoga, running, home workouts and long walks.

What to try: The Zottman curl. 

Hold a dumbbell or water bottle in each hand, with arms by your sides. 

Slowly curl the weights up to your shoulders without moving the upper arms, and with your palms facing forwards. 

Rotate wrists so palms face away and slowly lower the weights. 

Rotate wrists back to starting position.

That’s one repetition. 

Do four sets of 12 repetitions, three days a week.