Eye Disease, Integrative Vision Care And Nutrition
by Dr. Marc Grossman, O.D., L.Ac.
Mind/Body medicine is based on the fact that our health and well-being depends on all the individual parts to work together effectively. So it should come as no surprise that healthy eyesight is also dependent upon our total well-being, which is affected by our genetic makeup, the food we eat, our work environment and exposure to airborne toxins, as well as our general belief systems about ourselves and the world we live in.
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).
Nutrition and Nutritional Supplementation
Nutrition and nutritional supplementation could 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:
Vitamin C - in parts of Europe and Asia, vitamin C is considered part of routine treatment for glaucoma. It lowers eye pressure through a combination of decreasing fluid production and improving the outflow of aqueous humor. It also improves collagen metabolism which may be one of the underlying reasons for the development of glaucoma. Nutritional sources include citrus fruits, red peppers and tomatoes.
Omega-3 fatty acids - these may help reduce the chronic inflammatory processes that is found in many patients with glaucoma. Fish and unrefined fish oils are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that Eskimos, who have a high intake of Omega 3, have a very low incidence of open-angle glaucoma. Some studies on animals further indicate that fish oil can reduce fluid pressure within the eyes. The best sources are the flesh of cold water fish (example; salmon, mackerel, cod) as well as black currant seed oil, and flax seed oil. Consider eating fish three times a week.
Coleus (coleus forskohlii) - this is an herb in the mint family that is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine. Certain studies have shown that coleus will lower intraocular pressure by relaxing smooth muscles in the eye. There is no natural food source. It is derived directly from the coleus plant.
Ginkgo biloba - may increase the circulation of blood to the eyes. It has been shown in some cases to help lower intraocular pressure in the eyes. There is no natural food source. It is directly derived from the ginkgo tree.
Magnesium - is a mineral that relaxes smooth muscles, which regulates the outflow of aqueous humor from the inner eye. Natural sources include most nuts, seeds, vegetables, seafood and soy products.
Lutein/zeaxanthin - these two carotenoids have been shown to be low in people with macular degeneration. . Increasing intake of them either by foods or by supplements has been found to prevent and even improve macular degeneration in many cases. Natural sources are green leafy vegetables including spinach, kale and collard greens.
Bilberry - strengthens the structural integrity of blood vessels throughout the body and promotes healthy circulation, particularly to the small capillaries that deliver oxygen and nutrients to the eyes. Bilberry also helps prevent free radical damage to the delicate structures within the eye. Natural sources are blueberries and huckleberries.
Taurine - this amino acid is important for the regeneration of worn out tissues of the retina. It helps protect the eyes from ultraviolet radiation. Natural sources include eggs, meats and fish.
Vinpocetine - improves the utilization of glucose and oxygen in the brain and retina. Zinc - the macular can degenerate when zinc is deficient. It is found naturally in meats, oysters, and whole grains.
Vitamin C - the normal healthy lens of the eye contains a higher level of vitamin C that any other organ of the body except the adrenal glands. Studies have shown a decreased level of vitamin C in the aqueous humor as well as in the overall body when cataracts are forming. Vitamin C has also been shown to control sugar imbalances that often play a role in cataract formation. Natural sources include citrus fruits, red peppers and tomatoes.
Glutathione - could be very effective in preventing cataract formation, and is crucial in possibly altering free radical damage. Some studies have shown that many lenses with cataracts contain approximately 1/5th the amount of glutathione as compared to normal lenses. Glutathione is produced by the body and is composed of three amino acids: cysteine, glycine and glutamic acid. All the following nutrients could help increase glutathione levels: N-Acetyl Cysteine, Alpha Lipoic Acid, vitamin C, selenium, vitamin E, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, zinc, and other nutrients. Natural sources include eggs, broccoli, avocados, garlic, onions and cauliflower.
However, nothing replaces a positive, healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, daily meditations or walks in nature and a healthy diet. The rapid pace of our lives often interferes with us taking the time to really take care of ourselves. Caring for ourselves helps to keep our bodies healthy, and maximizes the mind/body's inherent healing potential.