Glaucoma is the second most common form of progressive blindness in the USA after macular degeneration. Glaucoma is also the leading cause of blindness among African-Americans and Hispanics. Glaucoma is estimated to affect over 4 million Americans — but only half have received a diagnosis. In fact, increased pressure in the eye is the most frequent underlying cause of glaucoma. It usually occurs without pain or other warning signs. Let’s look at natural treatments for glaucoma, symptoms, types, and risk factors.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a condition of the eye characterized by damage to the optic nerve that is usually caused by excessive pressure within the eye or intraocular pressure (IOP). Glaucoma is actually a group of diseases composed of over twenty different forms. Left untreated, any of these forms of glaucoma will result in permanent progressive vision loss that can eventually lead to blindness.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the United States, afflicting over two million Americans. Estimates tell us that there are about 80,000 individuals who are legally blind in the U.S. due to glaucoma. Glaucoma is exceptionally hard-hitting in the African-American community, where it is the leading cause of blindness. It is found most commonly in the elderly, but it can affect people of any age, even newborns or fetuses, in some instances.
The good news is that glaucoma is easily diagnosed, and most vision loss can be avoided when caught early. There are also a variety of treatments available, both mainstream medicine and alternative.
What Causes Glaucoma?
In my opinion, the eye is one of the most amazing organs of the body. The complexity of its design is truly a wonder of engineering by our Creator. So, to better understand the ins and outs of glaucoma, it may help to have some basic knowledge of the structure of the eye.
Intraocular Pressure (IOP) is the mechanism whereby the eye can maintain its spherical shape. A good analogy might be a balloon. Too much air pressure can strain the shape of a balloon and even cause it to pop. In optical terms, abnormally high IOP causes damage to the optic nerve, a bundle of over one million nerve fibers that is the main pipeline for the eye to transport images to the brain. IOP is regulated by certain fluids found inside the eye, like the effect of hydraulic fluid in some machinery.
The eye is composed of several layers. The sclera is a protective covering that encompasses the entire eye while allowing light to enter through the cornea at the front of the eye and electrical impulses to exit via the optic nerve at the rear. Light entering the cornea must pass through the iris before reaching the lens. The iris can control the amount of light let in by adjusting the size of a structure called the pupil, which functions somewhat like the diaphragm of a camera.
Thanks for bearing with my lecture because now we’re getting to the nitty-gritty of glaucoma. As I mentioned above, IOP is maintained by the presence of fluids within the eye. The iris, cornea, and lens are bathed in a fluid called the aqueous humor, which occupies the front of the eye. The other vital fluid found in the eye is called the vitreous, and it fills the vitreous cavity located at the rear of the eye. The eye continually produces the aqueous humor, so there is also a complex drainage system responsible for channeling the fluid out of the eye at the proper rate to keep the IOP normal. The drainage mechanism is composed of a network of intricate channels called the trabecular meshwork that eventually draws off the aqueous humor into a structure known as Schlemm’s canal, where it is dumped into the bloodstream. Glaucoma results from too much aqueous humor, either from abnormal amounts of production or inadequate drainage to rid it from the eye. This excess fluid increases the IOP to levels that cause damage to the optic nerve and result in eventual vision impairment if left unchecked.
Results of a 2018 study suggest that glaucoma is caused by bacteria-primed CD4+ T cells that enter the eyes after the blood–retina barrier is compromised through pressure and cause neurodegeneration by cross-reacting with HSP-expressing RGCs. (R)
The Two Main Types of Glaucoma
- Primary open-angle glaucoma, or chronic open-angle glaucoma as it is sometimes called, is the most commonly found form, accounting for over 90% of all glaucoma cases. It is referred to as “open-angle” because the space or angle between the iris and cornea is open, allowing for drainage of the aqueous humor. However, IOP still climbs to abnormal levels in open-angle cases. Still, it is a chronic condition that usually causes slow but steady damage to the optic nerve over time, resulting in the associated vision concerns.
- Acute angle-closure glaucoma, or closed-angle glaucoma, is much less common, but it can be a severe and sudden medical emergency that needs immediate attention. With closed-angle glaucoma, the access for drainage of the aqueous humor is suddenly blocked, causing a spike in IOP, which can cause permanent vision loss within 24 hours of an attack if it is not appropriately treated. There are several causes for this. Researchers believe some people are born with a genetic defect that leaves them with an abnormally narrow drainage angle. As we age, our eyes’ lenses tend to get larger, narrowing the gap between the iris and cornea and causing angle-closure issues that lead to excessively high IOP. Angle-closure glaucoma can also come on suddenly due to trauma or injury to the eye that pushes the iris too close to the trabecular meshwork and blocks drainage of the aqueous humor.
Another factor to be aware of is the effect some medicines can have on your eyes, especially if you are born with unusually narrow angles for drainage. Certain drugs such as antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants, and some eye drops can cause dilation of the pupils, which has been known to set off an attack of angle-closure glaucoma in some folks. Eye drops that cause the pupils to dilate suddenly can cause immediate glaucoma attacks or may not cause the angle to close for several hours after using the drops. Please don’t assume anything regarding the safety of any medication, whether it is prescribed or over the counter. Being informed can save your vision, or in some cases, your life!
Can Parasites Cause Glaucoma?
The short answer is yes. Ocular involvement is due to the migration of the parasite and its metabolites causing an immune response. Involvement of the cornea and conjunctiva is manifested with conjunctival congestion and corneal ulcers respectively. Intraocular involvement causes glaucoma, uveitis, retinitis, and vitreous hemorrhage. (R)(R)
Common symptoms of eye parasites include light sensitivity, visual disturbances, or the loss of some or even all of a person’s eyelashes. Redness of the person’s eye can also happen. Visual disturbances are a common symptom of eye parasites. The disturbances can include a partial or even total loss of sight. (R)
Can Hormonal Imbalance Cause Glaucoma?
Keeping your hormones balanced is extremely important for overall body health. It is also essential to get your hormone levels tested at least on a yearly basis. I highly recommend using saliva testing. Research shows that balanced estrogen levels are important when it comes to the causes of glaucoma. However, the positive results of using estrogen-only use aren’t large. When it comes to hormone balance, it’s crucial to remember that estrogen and progesterone are a pigeon pair – thus should always be used together to keep a harmonic balance. Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy can restore the all-important estrogen-progesterone ratio, supporting whole-body health. When your hormones are balanced, it reduces your risk of developing hormone-depletion eye-related diseases. Implementing bioidentical hormone replacement therapy plus lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, and supplements is a holistic approach that can further protect your vision.
What Are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?
Typical symptoms will vary depending on the type of glaucoma:
- Open-angle glaucoma normally progresses slowly and may have no symptoms or minor ones until it moves into the advanced stages. This can make it a very dangerous form. If they do not get regular eye exams, many patients will never know they have glaucoma until it is too late, and inevitable blindness will result. Sometimes symptoms will affect only one eye at first, but eventually, both eyes will be damaged. Peripheral vision is usually compromised first; then, tunnel vision may occur, and finally, total blindness.
- Closed-angle glaucoma occurs suddenly and often happens in low-light conditions such as at twilight or in a darkened room with poor lighting. Unlike open-angle, symptoms are distinct and may be severe. These symptoms include Sudden and unexpected pain, which may be intense; Extreme reddening of the eye; Blurry vision; The appearance of halos around lights; Nausea; Vomiting.
Closed-angle attacks require immediate care to avoid permanent vision loss. While the attack may show itself initially in only one eye, both eyes are in danger.
- Low-tension glaucoma: This is a poorly understood form of glaucoma whereby the IOP is not abnormally high, yet damage occurs to the optic nerve anyway. Some researchers speculate it may have something to do with reduced blood supply to the optic nerve that can occur due to arteriosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries,” as it is commonly called.
What Are the Risk Factors Associated With Glaucoma?
Increased intraocular pressure is the common trait that causes most cases of glaucoma, but not everyone who has elevated IOP will develop glaucoma. Many factors can increase a person’s risk for this illness:
- Age: This is the most significant contributing factor to the risk for glaucoma. Chances of developing glaucoma increase for all of us when we hit 60. For African-Americans, it is higher after the age of 40.
- Race: Glaucoma is found three times as often in the African-American community as it is amongst Caucasians. Their risk for permanent blindness is much greater too. Hispanics have a higher incidence than Caucasians also, but not as high as African-Americans. Asian-Americans and Japanese-Americans are also more susceptible to certain forms of glaucoma, angle-closure, and low-tension, respectively. The reasons for this racial disparity are not known.
- Genetics: More than 20 genes have been identified as possibly associated with an increased risk for glaucoma. Statistics prove that if you have a close family member with a history of glaucoma, your risk is increased dramatically to develop it yourself.
- Other medical conditions: Hypertension, diabetes, and coronary disease are three of the most common disorders that increase the risk for glaucoma.
- Eye injuries: Any trauma to the eye can increase the risk of glaucoma, such as a detached retina, eye surgery, eye tumors, or inflammatory eye diseases such as uveitis or iritis.
- Nearsightedness: For reasons not well understood, if you cannot see far away objects clearly without corrective lenses, your risk for glaucoma is greater.
- Corticosteroids: Prolonged use of these drugs has the side effect of increasing your chances of getting glaucoma.
- Coffee: Attention All Coffee Drinkers! It has been discovered that regular use of coffee leads to slightly increased IOP in some people. This is not a significant risk factor. I just thought I’d throw it in as another good reason for slowing those all-consuming coffee habits.
The best recommendation I can make regarding this question, other than avoiding any risk factors that you can, is to get regular eye checkups from an optometrist or an ophthalmologist that include checking for glaucoma. Routine tests (you’re probably familiar with the “air-puff” one called tonometry) can easily diagnose glaucoma. The earlier glaucoma is discovered, the less chance it can damage your vision.
If you are diagnosed with glaucoma, there are medicines that are commonly prescribed. Just be aware that, like anything foreign that goes into your body, there are potential side effects that your doctor may not tell you about or, even more frighteningly, may not even be aware of. Be sure to do your own research and ask your doctor any specific questions you may have.
Natural Treatments for Glaucoma
It has long been accepted that some of the most frequent subtypes of glaucoma are associated with metabolic syndrome, symptoms of which include obesity and high blood pressure. For that reason, natural treatments for glaucoma such as exercise, weight loss, restful sleep, a low-carb diet, and insulin-sensitizing nutrients—all of which can help reverse metabolic syndrome—may help manage elevated IOP.
- Astaxanthin is shown to significantly reduce retinal ganglion cells apoptosis responsible for the progression of retinal damage in glaucoma and in other optic neuropathies and RPE cells death that causes AMD development. (R) (R) The best and most effective type of astaxanthin is natural astaxanthin in liposomal form.
- Many people have also found that a diet rich in vitamins A, C, B1, chromium, zinc, and flavonoid rutin has positively lowered IOP. Omega 3 fatty acids decreased IOP by encouraging fluid outflow from the eye. Other studies report that patients with glaucoma were found to have lower levels of omega-three fatty acids than those without.
- Improve your weight. According to Beaver Dam Eye Study, high body mass index (BMI) and obesity are linked to elevated pressure inside the eyes or intraocular pressure. With time, this high intraocular pressure can damage optical nerve fibers or optic nerves and cause glaucoma.
- Reduce refined carbs to fight insulin resistance.
- Exercise. Be very careful with any exercise which might increase intraocular pressure, such as lifting weights.
- If you smoke, stop. If you don’t smoke, keep it that way.
- Get periodic eye checks, and take your prescription eye drops.
- If you’re taking an anti-hypertensive drug, especially if you’re over 75, make sure that your medication isn’t causing your blood pressure to dip too low, especially at night while sleeping — this has been demonstrated to impair circulation to your eyes and worsen glaucoma.
- Don’t overdo it on coffee or decongestant ingredients in cold or allergy medications; bladder medications, antihistamines, oral steroids, and steroid eye drops. Also, certain antidepressants are associated with glaucoma worsening.
- Add a good Omega 3 supplement.
- Foods that can support eye health include leafy vegetables such as kale and collard greens, blueberries, green peppers, citrus fruits, sweet potatoes, carrots, walnuts, beans, and most green, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables. Please purchase organic foods as much as possible. A large population-based study of over 100,000 participants (The Nurses Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study) reported that a higher intake of nitrate-rich foods and leafy green vegetables reduced glaucoma risk by over 20%.
- Take chelated magnesium. Magnesium may help patients with glaucoma by improving ocular blood flow. (R) It also has a neuroprotective effect by inhibiting the release of glutamate, a compound that can induce oxidative stress and cause damage to the optic nerve.
- Take antioxidants such as liposomal astaxanthin (take on a full stomach), mixed carotenoids, vitamins A, C, mixed tocopherol E, zinc, selenium, alpha-lipoic acid, and lutein.
- Take Ginkgo Biloba standardized extract (40 mg 3 times daily was used in the study). Ginkgo biloba is one of the most promising supplements for glaucoma treatment. It is known to have antioxidant properties, help increase blood flow, stabilize mitochondria, and protect neurons from damage. Ginkgo Biloba and Citicoline together – Citicoline (Cognizin) has a neuroprotective effect via mechanisms relevant to glaucoma. The neuroprotective effect of citicoline in open-angle glaucoma can be demonstrated functionally and morphologically. It is independent of the glaucoma damage and intraocular pressure and usually occurs only after one year.
- Mirtogenol (Horphag/Indena) is a dietary supplement that works similarly to Ginkgo Biloba. It is a combination of two phenolic extracts taken from standardized bilberry and French maritime pine bark. (R) Previous studies have demonstrated that Mirtogenol can be helpful in treating glaucoma by improving ocular blood flow and lowering IOP. In one study, Mirtogenol lowered IOP in patients with OHT who did not yet show signs of glaucoma.
- Take EGCG capsules (one twice daily) or drink several cups of organic green tea daily.
- Consider a potent bioflavonoid or proanthocyanidin (rutin, grape seed extract, bilberry, or pycnogenol) formula.
- Take melatonin 3-5 mg at bedtime.
- Get your Vitamin D3 levels checked yearly. Your serum 25(OH) vitamin D should be 40 ng/ml or greater.
- Meditation reduces stress and blood pressure — risk factors for high eye pressure. A randomized clinical trial from India indicates that mindfulness meditation practiced for one hour every day for three weeks (while continuing with the prescribed glaucoma medications) reduced eye pressure, decreased stress levels, and improved quality of life. The final results were stunning, as 75% of those who completed the meditation course achieved an eye pressure reduction of more than 25%.
- Don’t skimp on sleep. Get enough restful sleep every night.
Approaching any health issue by taking care of your body allows you to gain many excellent benefits for your whole body. Your eyes are an essential part of your body; some say the eyes are windows to the soul. It makes good sense that what is good for your body is also good for your eyes and vice-versa. Lifestyle changes can be very advantageous in reducing your eye pressure. I highly encourage you to take the time necessary to do your own research.
The natural treatments for glaucoma above should not replace the glaucoma treatment that your eye doctor has already prescribed. Instead, these remedies for glaucoma, if used, should be in addition to and complement your existing treatment. If you decide to try natural glaucoma supplements, make sure to speak with your eye doctor and family doctor first to avoid any adverse drug interactions and unwanted side effects.
Don’t miss out on seeing the everyday beauty of creation as well as being an eye-witness to the future! As with all health matters, use common sense, educate yourself, talk with a trusted healthcare practitioner, and never be afraid to ask questions.