There is no doubt that there are a number of factors that play into our health. Top of mind for most people when it comes to their health is their genes. What are you predisposed to because of your genes? Although we cannot change our genes, there is something we do have control over that is also a significant factor in our health – lifestyle. Each one of us is affected by our lifestyle choices. This week we will examine whether one’s lifestyle choices can prevent or slow down glaucoma progression. Read on to find out!
What Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an extremely prevalent eye disease among Canadians. It can take your sight if not caught early enough and treated. Glaucoma results from damage to the optic nerve usually due to high eye pressure. The optic nerve is a critical piece of hardware in the eye structure because it is the link between the eye and the brain. Messages in the form of electrical impulses travel from the eye to the brain, where they are interpreted and an image is formed. Without the optic nerve, you simply would not be able to see. In our previous blog post “Glaucoma Causes, Prevention & Treatment – Learn about Glaucoma” we detailed the two types of glaucoma that a patient can develop:
1. Open Angle Glaucoma: refers to the loss of peripheral vision due to elevated eye pressure, because too much fluid is being produced in the back of the eye, or not enough fluid is being released through the drainage system.
2. Closed Angle Glaucoma: refers to when the drainage system of the eye suddenly closes and causes a rapid increase in intraocular pressure. This is a very painful type of glaucoma, and should immediately be treated as one can lose their vision in a matter of minutes.
Generally, glaucoma is thought to not be preventable and is usually treated, once detected, with eye drops or surgery. However, because modern medicine is an ever-evolving field newer information focusing on lifestyle choices is emerging. The question is how effective can lifestyle choices be on preventing or slowing glaucoma progression?
One major buzzword that many of us have heard in the last few years is the term antioxidants. What exactly are antioxidants? Antioxidants help protect against oxidation, which usually occurs in the form of free radicals. Oxidation causes damage to our bodies cells and in the long terms can cause cell death. It’s no wonder this word has been popping up everywhere! For example, antioxidants like Ginko Biloba have proven to aid in glaucoma. The Science Based Health website article Antioxidants May be Beneficial in Glaucoma wrote about a study and the positive effects of Ginko Biloba on glaucoma patients:
“In this study, twenty seven patients with visual field damage received 120 mg of supplemental ginkgo extract for 4 weeks, followed by 8 weeks of no supplementation, then 4 weeks of placebo treatment. Other patients underwent the same regimen, but took the placebo first and ginkgo last. Visual field tests, were performed at the beginning and at the end of each phase of the study. Significant improvement in visual field measurements was found only after the period when ginkgo was taken, and did not continue after supplementation was stopped.”
Other antioxidants which may help aid in glaucoma include melatonin, Coenzyme Q10, and among other flavonoids. As The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCIB)’s website concludes in their article about the Association of total antioxidants level with glaucoma type and severity: “the hypothesis that decreased antioxidative defense and/or increased oxidative stress may have a critical role in the pathogenesis of glaucoma” In other words antioxidant levels and oppositely oxidative stress levels do play a role in glaucoma development and progression.
We all know getting enough sleep is extremely important for overall body health, and this is true when it comes to eye health as well. But what about sleep positions? An article was written in the Review Group Vision Care Education website on Glaucoma: Lifestyles of the Antioxidant Rich and Famous, which details how sleep can impact your risk of glaucoma. It explains how glaucoma patients can benefit from “a slight head elevation and possible avoidance of sleeping on the side of the worse eye when significant asymmetry is present.” So what does this mean? Essentially when the head is at an elevated position this can help to reduce eye pressure. Because glaucoma often results from increased eye pressure, reducing it can decrease the risk of glaucoma-related vision issues.
Managing Your Lifestyle Choices
We have looked at a few lifestyle choices any one person can have; however, there are many others that were not detailed like ones exercise and dietary habits. The ones that were explored do show some positive evidence in relation to glaucoma prevention and progression. Unfortunately, however, more studies do need to be conducted as lifestyle choices are vast and varying and therefore hard to examine. Additionally, each person’s body absorbs antioxidants differently, so it is hard to conclude with confidence that any one particular antioxidant will help guard against glaucoma or slow down its progression.
Although the jury is still out on whether ones lifestyle choices can help prevent or delay glaucoma progression, it is important to note that if you are at high risk of developing glaucoma or already have it, it is worth having a conversation with your local eye doctor on your particular lifestyle choices. Do you exercise regularly? Eat a well-balanced diet? Information about healthy eating, exercise, antioxidants, and supplementation may be applicable to your situation. Trying to live your best healthy self is good for not just your eyes but your overall body health – it’s all connected!
We are Victoria, BC’s local family eye care centre.