An Antioxidant A Day…

– By Stephen Cohen, O.D.

So much research continues about the role that diet and supplements can play in our health. This has now become the focus of research regarding diet and glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a chronic and, if untreated, progressive disease where gradual damage can cause irreversible loss of vision. It is often called “the silent thief of sight,” because, like hypertension, there are typically no symptoms that you will feel while the disease is developing and progressing. Regular eye exams are the only assured way of catching the disease in the early stages to prevent vision loss.

The same oxidation process (free radicals) that rusts metal and damages cells in our body (like sun exposure can do to our skin), can also damage parts of our retina in the back of our eyes. Antioxidants help to stabilize these free radicals.

Science continues to look for foods and supplements that can help manage glaucoma in addition to any possible medical therapy. Higher intakes of fruits and vegetables (especially carrots and green, leafy vegetables) may be associated with decreased risk of glaucoma. Tea, coffee, nuts, and seeds also contain high amounts of antioxidants. It has also been found that limiting carbohydrates can reduce the production of these potentially damaging free radicals. Omega-3’s can also possibly reduce the pressure inside the eyes. Our diets tend to be too high in Omega-6’s, which can become pro-inflammatory, so we need to better balance these by taking Omega-3 supplements. The Mediterranean Diet, for one, has been shown to have many benefits, and protection against glaucoma could be one. Additionally, supplements and foods like bilberry, ginkgo biloba, black currants, CoQ10, magnesium and melatonin have all shown possible benefits.

Even our sleep position can have an impact on eye pressure. Sleeping in a supine position tends to raise pressure but sleeping with your head elevated by about 20–30 degrees can lessen the effect. A glaucoma study showed that for people with glaucoma who tend to sleep on one side, that side experiences greater loss of peripheral vision. Alcohol, in smaller amounts, can temporarily reduce eye pressure but high alcohol intake increases eye pressure. Similarly, moderately intense exercise tends to lower eye pressure for both people with glaucoma as well as people without glaucoma. However, weight lifting can cause a transient increase in eye pressure that dissipates quickly after completion, and yoga positions that involve a headstand or that place the eyes below the heart can almost double eye pressure, but this, too, will return to baseline within a few minutes.

While glaucoma can occur despite our best efforts (fairly strong genetic predisposition), there is much we can do to help reduce those risks and the progression of this vision-threatening disease. Most of these concepts are common sense, but now research is showing specific benefits for your eyes. When it comes to making lifestyle changes, just follow the old adage: Begin. The rest is easy.

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