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Condition - Glaucoma

By Cathy Robinson BSc(Hons) DipNutMed MWNMS

Glaucoma affects more than 500,000 people in England and Wales, and in excess of 70 million people across the world.

If the aqueous humour, the fluid within the eye, cannot drain away adequately, the result is increased pressure within the eyeball. This pressure can cause damage to the optic nerve and a deterioration of vision, resulting in glaucoma. Glaucoma falls into two categories – a slowly-developing form of the condition and the less common, sudden-onset glaucoma.

Glaucoma initially produces few symptoms. Eventually, sufferers experience a loss of peripheral vision. Glaucoma is probably the leading cause of preventable blindness in the UK, being responsible for 13% of cases of blindness.

So, how can we help to protect ourselves from glaucoma? In order to detect glaucoma early, it is recommended that intraocular pressure (IOP) and visual field be checked during every routine eye test, at least every two years. More frequent testing is recommended for those with a family history of glaucoma, or those suffering from other risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and migraines.

Forty years ago, scientists were looking at the possibility that vitamin C may reduce IOP. Today, most nutritionists recommend an intake of at least 1000mg vitamin C per day for general good health. Since that’s how much vitamin C is contained in around 14 oranges, a supplement may be more convenient!  For those with sensitive stomachs, vitamin C, buffered with alkaline minerals, such as calcium, is much easier to tolerate. Alpha-lipoic acid, a powerful antioxidant, has been shown to be of benefit to eye health.

The Inuit people, who eat large amounts of omega 3 oils in their diet of oily fish, have a lower incidence of glaucoma than other people, who generally consume far less omega 3 on a daily basis.

Recently, studies have found a link between altered blood flow to the eye and the development of glaucoma.

People with reduced blood circulation to the optic nerve appear to develop glaucoma at a lower IOP. Low levels of magnesium in the body have been linked to poor ocular blood flow, as well as hypertension. Magnesium can be found in green leafy vegetables, nuts and whole grains, but it is worth remembering that magnesium deficiency is common, particularly in the elderly.

Oxidative stress appears to play a role in the development of glaucoma, so let’s look at some of the antioxidants, which may play a role in eye health. Berry fruits, such as bilberries, contain carotenoids, which have been linked to improved vision. Other carotenoids include the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which are found in dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and broccoli. 

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