Glaucoma is an eye disease in which there is damage to the optic nerve and a gradual loss of vision. It affects millions of people worldwide. And without treatment glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness.
There are several different types of glaucoma. The most common type is open-angle glaucoma. It affects older people and takes years to develop. The visual field is gradually lost from the outside edges. Many have no symptoms, so don’t realise they have the condition.
A pressure build up in the eyes increases the risk of developing glaucoma. This is known as high intraocular pressure. Having high intraocular pressure does not mean a person has glaucoma. Most people with high intracocular pressure do not have glaucoma. But their risk for glaucoma is higher.
This high pressure can be detected during a routine eye examination at the opticians. And further testing will determine if glaucoma is present. Early detection is important since treatment can slow the progression of the disease. But damage to the optic nerve is irreversible.
Another type of glaucoma is normal tension glaucoma. People with normal tension glaucoma do not have high intraocular pressure. These people also have a higher than normal incidence of migraine. Leading to the suggestion that in this type spasm of the blood vessels could be a possible cause.
Spasm of blood vessels can lead to poor delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. Any tissue deprived of oxygen or nutrients, or that cannot eliminate toxins will suffer. In the eyes this increases the risk of damage to the optic nerve.
Glaucoma can be detected during a routine eye test. Early detection of damage to the optic nerve is important. Since loss of vision associated with glaucoma is irreversible.
Conventional treatment aims to prevent further damage or deterioration in vision. And usually involves daily application of eyedrops that reduce pressure in the eyes. Other forms of treatment include laser therapy and surgery. These also aim to improve drainage of fluid and reduce eye pressure. Despite these treatments some patients still go blind.
So, perhaps it is not surprising that people with glaucoma look for alternative treatments. A survey revealed that 1 in 9 people with glaucoma take complementary medicine. Most of these take their complementary medicine alongside the conventional treatments. And some of these people reported a reduced need for their conventional medication.
There are many scientific studies on the subject of glaucoma. A number of these suggest that oxidative stress has a role in the progression of the disease. Damage occurs when free radicals outweigh the antioxidant defences of the body. And some people are more at risk for oxidative stress due to their genetics.
Several herbs and supplements have antioxidant and other beneficial activity. Research shows that some of these may help prevent or treat glaucoma.
Ginkgo biloba is an antioxidant herb. It also increases circulation in the small blood vessels. This includes circulation to the optic nerve. Increasing tolerance to lower oxygen levels. And helping to prevent damage caused by free radicals.
One study used Ginkgo biloba extract on people with normal tension glaucoma. The Ginkgo biloba extract provided significant improvement in the visual field. This without changing the intraocular pressure, blood pressure or heart rate.
Bilberry is another herbs with a strong tradition of use for eye disorders. It is rich in anthocyanins, that are powerful antioxidants. A six month trial on patients with normal tension glaucoma showed improvements in a combined study of Ginkgo biloba and bilberry.
Another study, thirty years ago, tested a topical application of forskolin. This is a derivative of the herb Coleus forskolii. Forskolin decreased intraocular pressure by reducing aqueous humour inflow to the eyes. Numerous studies since then have confirmed these results.
Another herb with potent antioxidant constituents is saffron. This herb contains carotenoids. Research shows carotenoids protect against glaucoma. A trial studied saffron and intraocular pressure in patients already taking prescribed medicine. The saffron extract taken in addition to the prescribed medicine further reduced intraocular pressure. Though the pressure did return to previous levels after one month without the saffron.
Several nutritional supplements show benefits for glaucoma patients. Alpha lipoic acid improved visual function after one month. It is a powerful antioxidant that reduces nerve cell damage caused by oxidative stress.
Lipoic acid also helps to restore the body’s levels of glutathione. This is the body’s most important antioxidant and is crucial for good health. It is thought that low glutathione levels may contribute to the glaucoma disease process. Supplementing with alpha lipoic acid increases glutathione in tears in glaucoma patients.
Vitamin C is perhaps the best know antioxidant nutrient. High doses of vitamin C increases the drainage of fluid from the eyes, reducing pressure. And, the higher the initial pressure the greater the effect of the vitamin C treatment. Vitamin C also helps to restore the body’s glutathione levels.
There is not so much research on natural remedies for glaucoma. But the research that is available shows significant benefits. So, in a condition like glaucoma where the stakes are high. Perhaps there is a role for herbs and supplements in addition to prescribed medication.