The eye disease glaucoma can be devastating to eyesight, so scientists are looking at risk factors such as folate intake. There are few good therapies once the disease sets in. Vitamins could potentially prevent glaucoma. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at folate intake and the risk of developing open-angle glaucoma, also called “pseudoexfoliation” or “exfoliation syndrome.”
Glaucoma mostly strikes the elderly. In open-angle glaucoma, a part of the eye does not drain correctly. Fluid builds up in the eye, damaging the optic nerve. Fluid pressure builds up in the eye. Glaucoma can result in severe vision loss and blindness.
The study looked at 20 years of research on nearly 120,000 people in the Nurses’ Health Study1 A higher folate intake was likely associated with a reduced risk of exfoliation glaucoma. While more research on folate and glaucoma is needed, researchers have shown that nutrition affects eye disease.
Folate is Vitamin B9. Several B vitamins are needed to convert homocysteine into non-toxic chemicals in the body. When a person is deficient in these vitamins, excess homocysteine can cause inflammation and reduce the efficiency of the cardio-vascular system. When homocysteine is present in the blood in high levels, retinal vein occlusions and artery occlusions are more common; as is optic neuropathy (nonarteritic ischemic). Higher homocysteine levels were found in the tears of glaucoma patients.
Folic acid was added to flour and cereals in the USA and Canada after a connection was made between deficiency and Spina Bifida, a serious birth defect. Good sources of folate include dark, leafy greens, asparagus, citrus fruit, broccoli, and peas/lentils/beans.
All B vitamins help the body produce energy. B-complex vitamins are necessary for healthy liver functioning, nervous system operations, and healthy eyes, skin, and hair. Each B vitamin serves a purpose in the body:
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): New cell production
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Red blood cell production; free radical protection
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Regulates digestion and the nervous system. Helps convert food into energy.
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid): For hormonal production and breaking down fats and carbohydrates
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): For fighting infection and converting food into energy.
- Vitamin B9 (Folate or Folic Acid): Folic acid is found in fortified foods and supplements; folate occurs in foods naturally. Important for producing red blood cells, for proper brain function, fetal development, mental health, emotional health, aids cellular reproduction, and more.
- Vitamin B12 – keeps your nerves and red blood cells healthy, and is responsible for the smooth functioning of several critical body processes.
Folate is One of Many Important Nutrients
Rather than focus on one isolated nutrient, Natural Eye Care recommends the Mediterranean Diet and the modified Vision Diet. The tiny structures of the eyes depend on nutrients and proper circulation to work correctly. Any breakdown can lead to eye disease. Glaucoma includes several variations and may be symptomless until an individual has significant vision loss. Getting regular dilated eye exams and intraocular pressure tests at the optometrist or ophthalmologist are crucial. Early detection helps. See Natural Eye Care’s page on glaucoma.
Editor’s Note: There is a range antioxidants researched as being either neuroprotective and/or supporting of optic nerve health including: taurine, Vitamin B12, magnesium, alpha lipoic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, bilberry, gingko biloba and Vitamin C (see Viteyes Optic Nerve Support Formula).
- Jae H. Kang, ScD1, Stephanie J. Loomis, MPH2, Janey L. Wiggs, MD, PhD2, Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH1,3,4, and Louis R. Pasquale, MD1,2. A prospective study of folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 in relation to exfoliation glaucoma or exfoliation glaucoma suspect. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2014 May ; 132(5): 549–559. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2014.100. ↩