Is lack of Ultraviolet Light a Cause of Macular Degeneration?

In my residency in Ophthalmology it was widely accepted that UV light is a cause of cataracts and macular degeneration. This is based on a study that was published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology 1982 Mar;93(3):299-306, titled the “Action spectrum for retinal injury from near-ultraviolet radiation in the aphakic monkey”. The conclusion was that near-ultraviolet produced irreparable damage to rod and cone photoreceptors.

But one needs to look closely at the design of the study

  • The monkeys used had cataract surgery and they did not have the protection of the lens.
  • Their eyes were dilated. This would prevent the normal constriction and protection to bright lights
  • A lid speculum was placed in the eyes to hold the eyes open. This prevented the normal physiological response of blinking
  • A 2500 watt xenon lamp was used for 16 minutes ( xenon lamps are extremely powerful sources of ultraviolet radiation)

According to Dr. Ott this is like someone putting their hand in a blast furnace and stating that heat is bad for our homes!

Too much of anything can be hazardous to our health. High levels of oxygen in premature infants cause damage to the eye. Does this oxygen should be avoided?

Another thing that has been indoctrinated in our society is that sun exposure causes malignant melanoma. We lather ourselves with suntan lotion and cover our bodies from the sun. Is this true? Lets look at a publication from the prestigious journal -The Lancet, Volume 320, Issue 8293, Pages 290 – 293, 7 August 1982. Malignant Melanoma and Exposure to Flourescent Lighting at Work.

In a study of 274 women with malignant melanoma, aged 18-54 years, and 549 matched controls in New South Wales, Australia, reported exposure to fluorescent light at work was associated with a doubling of melanoma risk . In fact Dr. Shaw discovered that the lowest risk of cancer was in those individuals whose out activity was sunbathing!

Dr Jacob Liberman in his book Light: Medicine of the Future reports the following benefits of UV light.

  • Activates the synthesis of vitamin D
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increases the efficiency of the heart
  • Reduces cholesterol
  • Helps in weight loss!
  • Helpful in the treatment of psoriais
  • Increases the level of sex hormones

In the early 60’s Dr John Ott was approached by Dr Thomas Dickinson who was research the effects of different drugs on the eye. Much to their surprise retinal cells responded the same way to light as chloroplasts in plants! They observed granules moving in a similar pattern in response to blue, red and natural light. The granules tending to clump in blue light, havoc under red light but normal flow under natural light! This surprised Dr Dickinson since strong drugs did not effect the cells as much as light

In 1964 John Ott along with Dr. Irving Leopold studied the effects of light on rabbit retinal pigment epithelial cells. They documented that that retinal pigment epithelial would not divide unless they were exposed to low levels of ultraviolet light. What this means is that UV light is necessary for our health! Severe depravation of UV light might be a contributing cause of macular degeneration!!

I am not suggesting sun gazing as a treatment of macular degeneration but I believe moderate exposure to sunlight can be the best medicine for our eyes. Don’t be like the monkeys with dilated pupils and clamps holding their eyes open!

My suggestion is at least one hour a day outdoors with exposure to sunlight. Remove your sun glasses, eye glasses and contact lenses. Do not look directly at the sun but absorb the reflected light from the sun into your eyes. Even on a cloudy day there will be benefits. Caution! If you had cataract surgery you have lost the protective benefit of the human lens and you need to reduce the exposure to UV light and possible protect you eyes with sunglasses.


  • Light: Medicine of the Future, Jacob Liberman, OD Bear and Company 1999
  • Dr. Liberman’s interview on Healthy vision
  • Light Radiation, and You, John N. Ott Devin-Adair 1982
  • Mother Jones Magazine June 1978
  • Am J Ophthalmol. 1982 Mar;93(3):299-306. Action spectrum for retinal injury from near-ultraviolet radiation in the aphakic monkey.
  • Lancet, Volume 320, Issue 8293, Pages 290 – 293, 7 August 1982. Malignant Melanoma and Exposure to Flourescent Lighting at Work.
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