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Natural Awakenings Philadelphia

Preventing and Treating Common Eye Disorders Holistically

Mar 01, 2017 03:30PM ● By Kelly Montgomery

The eyes are windows to the soul and also mirrors to many overall health issues. Common eye disorders are preventable and treatable through holistic methods.

Dry Eyes: “Dry eye is the most widespread eye problem in the U.S.,” says Robert Abel, Jr., M.D., an ophthalmologist and founder of Delaware Ophthalmology Consultants. “This occurs when the lacrimal glands do not produce enough watery tears and the meibomina glands do not produce enough oil. Too much water evaporates from the eye’s surface, causing redness, pain, stinging or burning.”

This imbalance of watery tears and oily tears is not only preventable, but also correctable through proper nutrition. Eliminate artificial sweeteners and trans fats, says Abel, author of The Eye Care Revolution. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame weaken nerve cells, including those in the brain and eye. “Trans fats displace essential fatty acids (EFAs) in the body, which are important not only for eye protection, but also to maintain overall health in the body. EFA deficiency decreases visual acuity,” adds Abel. EFAs are found in foods like eggs (preferably from free-range chickens), flaxseeds, cold-water fish (cod, halibut, tuna, sardines), walnuts, walnut oil, and dark leafy green vegetables.  

“Stay hydrated,” advises Alan Tillotson, RH, LaC, Ph.D., founder and director of Chrysalis Natural Medicine Clinic, in Delaware. He also stresses the importance of consuming omega-3 EFAs, especially fish oils, because they help to slow tear evaporation.

According to Tillotson, author of The One Earth Herbal Sourcebook, the extract of the South American maqui berry boosts tear fluid secretion and supports the tear film. In a 2014 study in Panminerva Medica, Japanese researchers showed that patients that took 60 mg of extract a day saw a significant increase in tear fluid volume.

Tillotson integrates Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), ayurveda and Western medicine to treat his patients. In TCM, rehmannia root is a base herb used to treat yin deficiency, in which dry eye is a basic symptom. Yin represents the energy that is responsible for moistening and cooling bodily functions. Rehmannia root nourishes the blood, “Therefore, [it] becomes very important in diseases where adequate blood supply is essential to deliver nutrients and immune cells, such as cancer therapy, wound healing, and vision problems,” explains Tillotson.

Cataracts: A cataract is a clouding of the lens. When this occurs, less light enters the eye and vision gradually diminishes. According to the World Health Organization, cataract is the leading cause of blindness in the world outside of the most developed countries. “Excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet light is a risk factor, so people living in higher altitudes or are in the sunlight more, are more susceptible to them,” says Abel.

In his book The Eye Care Revolution, Abel writes that it is a myth that everyone will develop cataracts as they age. “The fact is, cataracts can be prevented, stabilized and even reversed though nutrition and supplementation,” he contends. These actions include eating high-sulfur foods like raw onions and garlic that boost the body’s production of glutathione. “Glutathione is the most important antioxidant in the eye’s lens, and is deficient when cataracts form,” states Abel. Other actions include wearing sunglasses and supplementing with N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) to boost glutathione production and blue-green algae, which contains omega-3 EFAs, beta-carotene, vitamin B12 and all the essential amino acids.

Tillotson also stresses the importance of consuming vitamin C, the second-most important antioxidant in the eye’s lens, and vitamin E. Vitamin C helps prevent cataracts by guarding the lens against free radicals, serving as a natural ultraviolet filter inside the eye and recharging vitamin E, which in turn works with glutathione to help protect cell membranes. Foods rich in vitamin C are red bell peppers, citrus fruits (lemons, oranges), kiwi, broccoli, and kale. Foods rich in vitamin E are avocados, sunflower seeds, mangoes, almonds and Brazil nuts.

Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in Americans aged 60 or older, according to the National Eye Institute. Macular degeneration develops after years of damage to the macula, in the center of the retina. This disease destroys the sharp, central vision needed to see objects clearly. A person with macular degeneration may lose the ability to read, drive or see faces. 

According to Abel, macular degeneration is the starvation of the retina due to an insufficient amount of omega-3 EFAs in a person’s diet and poor digestion. “What’s good for the digestion is good for the macula,” he writes. A reduction in stomach acid can lead to poor digestion and an imbalance of the good and bad intestinal flora. Low stomach acid, which is common among older persons, reduces the ability to fight free-radical damage in the eye. Abel also recommends eating foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin. These powerful antioxidants called carotenoids are found in leafy green vegetables like kale, mustard and collard greens, eggs and corn (preferably organic to avoid GMOs).

“The sneaky guy is blue light,” says Abel, which is found in sunlight, computer screens and smartphones. “Wear sunglasses,” he advises, to block the sun’s blue and UV lights, both which cause free-radical damage. A habit such as smoking enhances these free radicals.

Glaucoma: “Glaucoma is a collection of diseases that damage the optic nerve, and no longer based solely on elevated internal eye pressure,” says Abel. Common contributors are smoking, elevated eye pressure, poor circulation and aging. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in African-Americans and Hispanics, according to the National Eye Institute.

Nutritionally, Abel recommends eliminating artificial sweeteners and eating a diet high in omega-3 EFAs, vitamins D3, which our bodies make when exposed to sunlight, and vitamin B12, available in eggs and sardines. B12 supports the fatty layers, or myelin sheaths, which protect the nerve fibers. 

Abel calls glaucoma “a disease of stress, due to the imbalance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.” He recommends meditation or other activities to reduce stress.

Tillotson agrees on practicing stress-busting activities because stress causes inflammation and, “Anything inflammatory is bad for the eyes.” Popular ayurvedic herbs used to reduce stress are ashwaghanda and tulsi (holy basil), which are popular in teas.

“The goal of internal herbal therapy is to preserve visual function and maintain the health of the optic nerve,” states Tillotson. “The ideal medicine for glaucoma should improve microcirculation to the back of the eye, nourish and moisturize the intra-eye membranes, restore antioxidant status, reduce intra-ocular pressure, calm stress and improve fluid drainage.”

Kelly A. Montgomery is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and editor.

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