Managing hormones and vascular disease risk could help prevent eye diseases associated with aging. Impaired blood flow is suspected of contributing to several major eye diseases. Glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and Age-related Macular Degeneration (ARMD) are all associated with reduced blood flow to the eyes. These eye diseases mostly strike seniors. As we age, our vascular health suffers. The arteries tend to become narrower and even blocked. Therefore, seniors could see benefits to their eyes by improving their vascular health.
Post-menopausal women sometimes turn to hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The goal is to stave off the negative effects of reduced estrogen in women entering menopause. Approximately 5 million women are currently taking prescription HRT. The safety of HRT is a topic of debate. A recent review of the research1 recommended that scientist study the effects of hormones on eye disease more deeply.
A few studies have shown that estrogen improved eye health. For example, a Korean study2 found that post-menopausal women who took HRT had fewer cataracts. They also had fewer retinal nerve fiber layer defects, which is damage associated with diabetes and glaucoma. Also, cases of pterygium (surfer’s eye) were of the less serious type in the HRT group.
Levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are key regulators of vascular tone in many of the body’s organs. Blood flow to the retina and choroid of the eyes might also be influenced by sex hormones. Estrogen has been shown to decrease vascular resistance in large blood vessels of the eyes.
While the effects of hormones on the eyes is under-researched, the overall benefits of a heart-healthy lifestyle are clear. Keeping your vascular system in tip-top shape reduces the risk of heart disease and associated damage. All tissues need the oxygen and nutrients provided by strong blood flow. Maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, eat a nutritious diet, take medication as prescribed, and judiciously supplement as you age.
- Curr Eye Res. 2015 Feb;40(2):201-12. doi: 10.3109/02713683.2014.906625. Epub 2014 Jun 3. Gender differences in ocular blood flow. Schmidl D et. al. ↩
- PLoS One. 2014 Sep 11;9(9):e106473. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0106473. eCollection 2014. The ocular benefits of estrogen replacement therapy: a population-based study in postmenopausal Korean women. Na KS et. al. ↩