I was visiting my eye doctor for my annual appointment and we began discussing the dangers of over the counter medications. I had just written a blog about the hazards of NSAID use and my optometrist commented that in his field the research is quite clear that most medications are causing some damage to the small vessels in the eye. He went on to say that he found it upsetting because it’s never talked about in the news and he’s seeing glaucoma more often than ever before in his career. He believes that drugs are a major contributing factor.
For a little primer on glaucoma - it is a slowly progressing disease that damages the eye's optic nerve and can cause blindness. Open angle glaucoma is the name given to the most common form of the disease that affects about 3 million Americans. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness for African Americans. Due to its slow progression and a lack of early warning symptoms, most who suffer don't even know they have it.
While early diagnosis and treatment is key to prevent blindness, there is no cure, nor known cause as to why the fluid builds up in the vessels in the eye causing damage to the nerve. What struck me, however, beyond the discussion of drugs affecting the eyes, was when he used a term ‘hypoperfusion’, which simply means inadequate circulation. The reason it resonated with me is that gluten is known to cause hypoperfusion of the brain. This fact has been related to the cause of depression, autism and ADHD symptoms, to name a few, in affected individuals.
I asked my optometrist if there would be an association between a substance causing hypoperfusion in the brain also affecting the vessels in the eye. He stated absolutely, that anything affecting the brain in that way would concurrently affect the vessels of the eye. Plus considering how small and delicate the vessels in the eye are, it wouldn’t take much to create a negative effect upon them.
Who's at Risk for Glaucoma?
I pondered if gluten intolerance could indeed be a causative factor in glaucoma. With just a little research I found some information from the University of Maryland regarding who was most at risk for developing glaucoma:
- Over 60 years of age
- Family history
- African American descent
- Myopia (near sightedness)
- Taking certain drugs, such as antihistamines or blood pressure medications
- Food sensitivities
- Sedentary lifestyle
Did you notice ‘food sensitivities’? Not only is it mentioned as a risk factor, but under ‘nutritional tips’ for glaucoma they mentioned eliminating foods that one is allergic/sensitive to, including dairy and gluten.
Our 'Favorite', Fruits and Veggies are Good for Your Eyes
The University also stressed increasing your fruits and vegetables, as a diet higher in antioxidants is known to reduce one’s risk of developing glaucoma. Basically, everything I recommend as a clinical nutritionist for a healthy diet was echoed by the University of Maryland Complementary Medicine’s department.
E.g. lots of water, moderate exercise, reduced caffeine, include good fats such as fish oil and olive oil, and a small amount of lean, clean protein.
They also mentioned the importance of supplementing one’s diet with a great anti-oxidant formula. I don’t like to typically discuss products that we sell at the clinic, but I’m going to make an exception this time. Why? Because I think it's important to share the data I learned from the formulator of my favorite multiple and anti-oxidant -a brilliant biochemist.
Supplements are likely Necessary
First of all, she said that it’s impossible to fit ‘everything’ in one pill. Her multiple (called Optimum Daily Allowance) is a large tablet and to get the required dosage requires 6 per day. (Yes, I know, I too wish it was less to swallow.) Plus, the antioxidant formula is separate because she says that to truly absorb the nutrients, it must be. Now this second one is a capsule and you only need 4 per day, but it’s name is ‘Body and Vision’. The name is apt because contained in it are many of the nutrients that are known ‘food’ for the eyes – lutein, alpha-lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10, etc.
Gluten Can Definitely Play a Role in Eye Health
Is avoiding gluten a good idea to prevent glaucoma? If you’re sensitive to it, absolutely. And, if glaucoma or any neurological condition runs in your family, it would be an excellent idea to get comprehensively tested for gluten intolerance – celiac and gluten sensitivity both.
On a personal note, my mother is now 90 years old. She’s very gluten sensitive but we only found out in her early 70s – this is when I first learned of gluten sensitivity. She was very ‘addicted’ to gluten and while she decreased her intake, it truly wasn’t until I moved her to live close to me that she became completely gluten-free, and that was about 6 years ago. She has glaucoma, she also has macular degeneration. And sadly, she has really begun to show brain atrophy. I
know you can say that living to 90 (with absolutely no diseases beyond those mentioned or medications, I might add) is pretty darn good. But watching her search for words and have her memory fail her is difficult. I know that it’s frustrating for her as well.
Could implementing a gluten-free diet earlier in her life have prevented some of these brain and eye disorders? Hard to know and impossible to prove. But it does cause one to wonder. We do know that gluten can very much affect circulation into the brain. That in itself is good enough reason for everyone wondering about gluten to get thoroughly evaluated. Would you like to know if gluten intolerance is affecting your health?
Do You Have Any of the Above Symptoms?
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To your health,Dr. Vikki Petersen
IFM Certified Practitioner
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Author of "The Gluten Effect"
Author of eBook: "Gluten Intolerance – What You Don't Know May Be Killing You!"
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