By Dr. Marc Grossman, OD, L.Ac.
Each of us is unique and literally takes the world in through our senses,
primarily through our vision. Many believe the way we take in the world is,
to some degree, a reflection of who we are and which symptoms we might
manifest. The integrative approach evaluates the person's lifestyle, habits,
diet, exercise routine, and stress management, along with the family
history in determining a therapeutic approach. It attempts to bring in the
patient as an active partner in the program to improve or maintain eye
health. Specific habits have been identified in studies to be very damaging
to eye health, including smoking, excessive alcohol, coffee, excess sugar
and refined foods, and hydrogenated oils (like margarines).
We have found that nutrition and nutritional supplementation can play a key role in helping to prevent vision loss and keeping our bodies strong. More and more peer review studies are identifying specific nutrients by eye disease that are lacking in patients with diseases such as the following:
GLAUCOMA is defined as a collection of diseases that causes optic nerve damage, sometimes as a result of increased pressure of the aqueous humor, the clear, watery fluid that circulates in the chamber of the eye between the cornea and the lens. Essential nutrients include the following:
- Vitamin C is considered part of routine treatment for glaucoma in parts of Europe and Asia. It lowers eye pressure through a combination of decreasing fluid production and improved outflow of aqueous humor. It also improves collagen metabolism that may be one of the underlying reasons for the development of glaucoma.
- Alpha lipoic acid is produced naturally by the body. It helps cells metabolize energy and is a powerful antioxidant. Studies have shown that supplementation of alpha lipoic acid may improve visual fields. The richest source of alpha lipoic acid is in red and organ meats, or it can be taken as a supplement.
- Omega 3 fatty acids can help reduce the chronic inflammatory processes found in many patients with glaucoma. Fish and fish oils are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids.
- Ginkgo biloba is an herb that has been shown to increase the circulation of blood to the eyes, and has been shown to help lower intraocular pressure in the eyes.
MACULAR DEGENERATION is the slow deterioration of the cells of the macula, a tiny yellowish area near the center of the retina where vision is most acute. Essential nutrients include the following:
- Lutein/zeaxanthin are carotenoids, natural pigments found in fruits and vegetables, and have been shown to be low in people with macular degeneration. Increasing your intake of them either by foods (spinach, kale, collard greens) or by supplements has been found to help prevent and even improve macular degeneration.
- Bilberry is an herb that helps improve the integrity of blood vessel walls.
- Taurine is an amino acid important for the regeneration of worn out tissues of the retina. It also helps protect the eyes from ultraviolet radiation. Good sources are fish and eggs.
- Zinc has been linked to the onset of macular degeneration when deficient. Good sources are meats or supplements.
CATARACTS can best be described as an opaque spot on the lens of the eye that you cannot see through, and often develops as we age. Essential nutrients include the following:
- Vitamin C has been shown to be consistently low in individuals with cataracts.
- Glutathione is a compound essential to making tissue enzymes and crucial in stopping free radical damage. It is made from a precursor cysteine (found in eggs, garlic, avocado, asparagus, onion and red meat), and can be very effective in preventing cataract formation.
Important studies on eye disease consistently support the value of healthy living. For example, one important study showed that eating collard greens and spinach at a frequency of two to four times a week was enough to lower the risk of macular degeneration by 46 percent, and was even greater at five to six times per week. Another study showed that cigarette smoking causes about 20 percent of all cataracts.
In summary, nutrient supplementation can be very important and if someone is concerned with their eye health, I recommend supplementing their diet with therapeutic dosages of the most important nutrients (such as those mentioned above) to help prevent many of the chronic eye conditions of today such as macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma.
Marc Grossman is an Optometrist and Licensed Acupuncturist. He has a private practice in New Paltz, and has been helping people preserve their vision for over 28 years. He is the co-author of Natural Eye Care, an encyclopedia. He lectures internationally on natural eye care, nutrition and Chinese medicine.