Study: Acupuncture (2014) & Retinitis Pigmentosa



Learn more about complementary treatment for retinitis pigmentosa.

Retinitis pigmentosa, with its progressive degredation of the photoreceptor cells in the retina leads to profound vision loss. Patients have been self-reporting some improvements and a group of researchers conducted a pilot study to accurately measure whether there was, and how much, measurable improvement.

Researchers had previously studied the use of electroacupuncture in lab animals with with similar conditions with good results. Several published case studies reported improvement in human patients in visual acuity and/or visual field area and sensitivity. In addition, over 400 patients self-reported such improvements over a 15 year period. These early studies lay the groundwork for more rigorous research methods.

A naturopathic physician developed a protocol specifically for retinitis pigmentosa, based on his extensive clinical experience. Twelve patients who had confirmed retinitis pigmentosa were part of the study and were treated using the standardized electroacupuncture treatment in 10 1/2 hour sessions over a two week period. Standard pre- and post-treatment tests measured the severity of the condition before and after treatment.

In addition the patients had been taking and continued to take nutrients that support the photoreceptors, such as lutein and vitamin A.

Vision testing after treatment consisted visual functioning testing one week and one month, as well as every 1 to 1 1/2 months for the next 10 to 12 months to assess how long the benefit continued.

Results Six of the twelve patients had significant, measurable vision improvements following treatment. Three out of nine patients were found to have a 13- to 53-fold improvement in a test known as the dark-adapted full-field stimulus threshold (FST) which continued for at least 10 to 12 months. This was a significant finding.

Dark adaption testing (how fast the eye is able to adjust seeing from bright to dim light) also improved by an average of 48.5% after one week, also a significant finding.

Other testing procedures revealed other improvements as well.

This sample was too small to draw conclusions about individual responses to treatment but the researchers report that age of onset of night vision loss may be a factor.

For more information you can read the entire study at NIH.gov. It discusses in some detail other research in the area of acupuncture and vision.

Researchers: Ava K. Bittner, OD, PhD, Jeffrey M. Gould, MEd LAc, Andy Rosenfarb, ND LAc, et al.

Published: A pilot study of an acupuncture protocol to improve visual function in retinitis pigmentosa patients, Clinical and Experimental Optometry, May, 2014.