Octopus Eyes Help Macular Degeneration

Octopus Eyes Help Macular Degeneration

The ocean holds vast amounts of potential healing capabilities for human health. From sea vegetation to the still many mysteries of ocean wildlife, researchers are continually studying the vast amount of resources that may apply to specific human ailments. 

With macular degeneration being the leading cause of blindness on the globe and projected to double from 11 million to 22 million affected by 2050, researchers have set their sights on the unique aspects of the eyes of cephalopods, particularly octopus. This amazing creature possesses a variety of almost ‘alien-esque’ systemic functions that are now showing some promise for clues to treating, and possibly someday curing, macular degeneration.

Excellent Pupils

It has been well known that octopus (and other cephalopods) are color blind. Yet, they are often full of color on their bodies and use these colors in mating as well as blending in for survival. This has stumped researchers for some time as octopus contain one kind of light receptor indicating that they only see in black and white. Why would they be surrounded by so much color and be able to use such colors when they cannot even see them?

It turns out that octopus have excellent pupils that go beyond human capability which may enable them to see color in a different way. These pupils can be U-shaped, W-shaped or dumbbell-shaped and able to allow light to enter from all sides rather than directly into the retina, like a human. This is known as polarized light vision which detects patterns that signal such things as prey, mates, or just navigation as if they are shimmering in color.

Scientists are now determining that although it has been thought that humans cannot see polarized light, it turns out we may be able to do so after all but just don’t know how to utilize the skill. Studying octopus vision has opened up potential ways humans can detect macular pigment health which may assist in reducing macular degeneration symptoms.

Macular Pigment Compromise

Loss of macular pigment is a precursor to the development of macular degeneration. By studying and comparing octopus vision, scientists are beginning to be able to detect macular pigment compromise in humans early on. 

Macular pigment is the body’s protection against damaging violet-blue light rays. It is made up of the carotenoids (plant pigments) lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin which is why it is essential to choose colorful plant-based selections and other fortified foods into your diet including:

  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Orange and yellow peppers
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Some fish
  • Organic eggs
  • Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, black berries, etc)

Supplementation is also recommended, particularly those that follow the AREDS (age-related eye disease study) 1 or 2 formula.

According to an archival study by researchers from the University Department of Ophthalmology, Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, Manchester, UK which was published in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, 

“The two most important risk factors for AMD are associated with a relative absence of MP [macular pigment]. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that supplemental lutein and zeaxanthin may delay, avert, or modify the course of this disease.”

Developing an Octopus Influenced Device

Until now it has been difficult for medical practitioners to measure the macular pigment levels in the eyes of humans. With the study of octopus vision, scientists have been able to develop an octopus influenced device to gain early detection and start preventative treatment to slow or even stall macular degeneration progression. 

Professor Shelby Temple, who holds honorary positions at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol and the School of Optometry, Aston University explained the advantages of studying octopus vision as reported by Science Daily,

“Humans can perceive polarized light because macular pigments in our eyes differentially absorb violet-blue light depending on its angle of polarization. It’s like a super sense most of us don’t even know we have, revealing a faint yellow bow-tie shape on the retina. The more of these pigments a person has, the better protected they are against sight-loss. By inventing a method to measure polarization vision in octopuses, we were able to use the core technology to develop a novel ophthalmic device that can quickly and easily screen people for low macular pigments, a strong risk factor for increased susceptibility to macular degeneration.”

The new device is able to screen people to determine a compromise of the essential carotenoids needed to maintain macular pigment strength. These carotenoids (lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin) are able to absorb high-energy visible violet-blue wavelengths before it can hit the retina and do damage. These are super antioxidants and being able to detect a weakness in this built-in protection could be a game changer in the fight against macular degeneration. 

Professor Temple continues, 

“Everyone should have their macular pigments measured, because you don’t know how well-protected your retina is against harmful violet-blue light, without knowing how much macular pigment you have,” Temple said. “It is a bit like skin color. People with very fair skin are at much greater risk of sunburn and skin cancer. The same is true for macular pigments, but we have been essentially blind to the state of our macular pigments because there was not an easy fast-screening tool available.” 

Talk to your eye doctor for a possible macular pigment measurement and then thank an octopus for its peripheral contribution. As more studies of octopus eyes and so many other potential unknowns continue, the closer researchers feel they will get to eradicating macular degeneration. It is often the results procured directly from nature that offer all the telltale signs that can get humans out of so many pathological compromises. It is the steadfast work of these scientists that maintain hope in successful treatments for macular degeneration and other debilitating diseases.