Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, and some 5.7 million people have some form of visual impairment because of it.1 It's actually a group of conditions that result in damage to the optic nerve and progressive vision loss, but the most common type is open-angle glaucoma, the type your mother has, which tends to develop slowly over time.2 Changes in the aging eye lead to less effective drainage of the aqueous humor (the clear fluid between the iris and cornea), causing a buildup of pressure within the eye. High internal eye pressure (intraocular pressure) is a major risk factor for glaucoma.
Conventional treatment of glaucoma usually involves the use of beta-blockers or prostaglandin analogs as eye drops to reduce pressure in the eye, but these can come with a long list of side-effects. Laser and surgical treatments are also options, but these invasive procedures don't always work.
Mounting evidence suggests that nutrition can play an important role in glaucoma, so dietary changes and nutritional supplements may be able to help. Here's a guide to the natural options showing promise for controlling glaucoma and improving eye health.
Eat an antioxidant-rich diet
Studies suggest that eating fruit and vegetables rich in vitamins A and C and carotenes—all potent antioxidants—reduces the risk of glaucoma. In particular, collard greens, kale, carrots, oranges and peaches appear to have a protective effect.3 Aim to eat a variety of brightly colored fruit and veg like these daily. You could also try juicing these ingredients and drinking them fresh each morning.
Drink tea, not coffee
Drinking caffeinated coffee appears to raise intraocular pressure in glaucoma patients, at least temporarily, so it may be better to avoid it.4 Drinking caffeinated tea, on the other hand, has been linked to a reduced risk of glaucoma.5 Green tea is a good choice, as it's packed with antioxidants that may have a protective effect on your eyes.6
Address nutritional deficiencies
Glaucoma patients have been found to be deficient in certain nutrients, such as thiamine (vitamin B1), chromium, magnesium and zinc.7 Work with a qualified practitioner who can organize testing and help you correct any deficiencies with the right supplements and dosages.
Take antioxidant supplements
Glaucoma patients typically have a weak antioxidant defense system,8 so boosting it with antioxidant supplements may be able to help. In fact, studies show the following can be beneficial:
Vitamin C. Taking vitamin C to bowel tolerance (gradually increasing the dosage each day until you get loose stools, then reducing the dosage slightly) lowered eye pressure in all glaucoma patients in one study. The average daily dose was 10 g per day.9
Suggested dosage: start with 1 g/day in three divided doses and increase to bowel tolerance
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA). Glaucoma sufferers taking this antioxidant experienced significant improvements in their vision.10
Suggested dosage: 150 mg/day
Vitamin E. Although clinical trials are lacking, some evidence suggests that vitamin E and other fat-soluble antioxidants may prevent the eye's drainage system from deteriorating as well as inhibit cell death.11
Suggested dosage: 500 mg/day
Try antioxidant eye drops
Coqun, an eye drop formula containing coenzyme Q10 and vitamin E made by Visufarma, can be effective as an add-on treatment for glaucoma. Patients using the drops in addition to their medication saw significant improvements compared to those taking medication alone.12 The preservative-free formula can be purchased from www.visufarma-shop.co.uk; international shipping is available.
Check your meds
Certain drugs have been linked to glaucoma, including steroids, calcium channel blockers and the contraceptive pill,13 so check with your doctor about any medication you are taking and investigate alternatives.
Take time to relax
Psychological stress is known to increase intraocular pressure,14 and relaxation techniques, including listening to soothing music and using visualization, have been found to lower it.15 In one study, more than half of the patients using relaxation and visual imagery techniques were able to reduce their glaucoma medication.16
Several herbal extracts have proved useful for glaucoma. Ideally, work with a qualified herbalist who can come up with an individualized plan. But here's what's worked in studies.
Ginkgo biloba. Taking an extract of this herb for a month led to significant improvements in patients with impaired eyesight due to glaucoma.17
Suggested dosage: 40 mg three times a day
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) and blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) contain anthocyanins, a group of flavonoids that appears to be helpful for glaucoma.18
Suggested dosage: choose high-quality extracts and follow the label instructions
Mirtogenol, a combination of French maritime pine bark extract and a standardized bilberry extract, can improve blood flow to the eye and reduce intraocular pressure.19 Try Life Extension's Eye Pressure Support with Mirtogenol.
Suggested dosage: follow the label instructions
Herbal eye health formula
Herbalist Meilyr James, owner of the Herbal Clinic in Swansea, Wales (www.herbalclinic-swansea.co.uk), recommends the following herbal formula for promoting healthy eyes and helping to control eye pressure:
Ginkgo biloba: 1:4 tincture
Vaccinium myrtillus (bilberry): 1:3 tincture
Euphrasia officinalis (eyebright): 1:5 tincture
Directions: Combine the tinctures by using two parts of the Ginkgo tincture to one part each of the Euphrasia and Vaccinium tinctures.
Take between 5-20 mL per day (depending on size and constitution).
Opt for omega-3
Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to glaucoma,20 and eating a diet high in fatty fish and walnuts, both rich sources of omega-3s, appears to have a protective effect.21 Scientists still need to figure out if omega-3 supplements are effective for glaucoma, but one study found that they reduced intraocular pressure in healthy people after three months.22 Try to incorporate omega-3-rich foods into your diet, or consider a high-quality supplement such as Bare Biology Lion Heart, Igennus Echiomega and Wiley's Finest Peak EPA (follow the label instructions).
Watch out for pesticides
Exposure to pesticides has been linked to glaucoma, so try to avoid the toxic chemicals as much as possible inside and outside of your home.21 Aim to eat organic when you can and use natural products for pest control in your home and garden, such as diatomaceous earth and essential oils. See our August 2019 issue for a handy guide on what to avoid and what to use instead.