Inflammation is a factor in many eye diseases, and what you eat affects inflammation. Whenever major holidays comes along, we are tempted to eat special foods. Many of these treats are high in calories and sugar, which contribute to inflammation. While you don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun, you can choose to eat foods that are anti-inflammatory. At the end of this article, you will find tips for limiting the damage while still enjoying the holiday.
The Dangers of Inflammation
Inflammation can be acute or chronic.
Acute inflammation occurs when, for example, you sprain your wrist. The joint becomes swollen, red, and painful. This type of inflammation is part of the healing process. The body is trying to remove damaged cells, debris, toxins and pathogens from the injured area.
Chronic inflammation affects the entire body at the cellular level. This results in abnormal electrical activity that hampers cellular performance and causes oxidative damage. Inflammation and the resulting oxidative damage are implicated in many diseases, ranging from hardening of the arteries1 to eye diseases such as cataracts, uveitis, inflammatory glaucoma, and Wet Macular Degeneration.
Chronic inflammation is detectable using blood tests. C-Reactive Protein or CRP measures a protein that indicates the inflammatory response. CRP should be below 1 or, ideally, 0. A high fasting blood insulin level may indicate chronic inflammation.
Risk factors for chronic, systemic inflammation include:
- overweight or obesity
- lack of exercise
- sleep disorders
- age (middle-aged and older)
- low sex hormones
- excessive alcohol consumption
- poor eating habits (fatty meats, white flour, and sugary foods instead of fruits, lean protein, whole grains, and vegetables).
Measurable indicators of a higher risk of chronic inflammation include:
- high blood pressure
- high LDL (bad) cholesterol
- C-Reactive Protein greater than 1
- high fasting blood insulin level
Many eye diseases are linked to chronic, systemic inflammation, poor circulation, and insufficient nutrients reaching the eye.
Inflammation, Heart Disease, and Retinal Vein Occlusion
Heart disease creeps up on people as they age. Younger people who are obese can also start to show the signs of heart disease. Regular doctor visits, family history, blood pressure measurements, and blood tests will reveal warning signs. You should never ignore these signs. Heart disease is the cause of one-third of deaths in the United States.2
Lifestyle changes are crucial to reducing the risk of heart disease, and even reversing it in some cases. Regular exercise, avoiding smoking, reducing alcohol, and eating a nutritious diet are crucial. The doctor may prescribe medication that should be taken as directed.
The risk factors for hardening of the arteries are almost the same as for chronic inflammation. Researchers are closely studying the causes of chronic inflammation and how to control it. Controlling chronic inflammation could be key to longevity and a full life as we age.
Atherosclerosis is also called “hardening of the arteries.” It is the build-up of plaque in the arteries. The plaque, made partially from cholesterol, hardens and causes the arteries to narrow. Organs become starved for oxygen, leading to stroke, coronary heart disease, chronic kidney disease and more.
Retinal vein occlusion is when atherosclerosis affects the eyes. The veins that drain blood from the eye become blocked. The system develops a hemorrhage, damaging the retina. Vision loss is sudden and can be permanent. Any sudden changes in vision need immediate medical attention.
Uveitis: Eye Inflammation
Uveitis refers to a group of inflammatory eye conditions. Often, the diagnosis includes a modifier such as anterior, posterior, intermediate, panuveitis, infectious, non-infectious, etc. Uveitis mostly affects adults aged 20 to 50.
The uvea is composed of the choroid, ciliary body, and iris. Inflammation in any part of the uvea can damage the retina, lens, vitreous and optic nerve, leading to vision loss. Symptoms include sudden blurring, floaters, eye redness or pain, and photophobia.
Causes include an autoimmune response, inflammatory disease, infections, tumors, bruises, and toxins that enter the eye. Treatments include anti-inflammatory medication and addressing any underlying diseases.
The list of diseases associated with uveitis is lengthy. It includes rheumatoid arthritis, reactive arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. Uveitis can lead to cataracts, elevated intraocular pressure, glaucoma, clouding of the cornea, retinal swelling, and retinal detachment.
Since uveitis has so many potential causes, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the first line of defense.
Around 1 in 5 patients with uveitis develop inflammatory glaucoma. As a result of the anterior uvea swelling, the trabecular meshwork becomes clogged. This may be reversible or chronic.
Optic Neuritis: Inflamed Optic Nerve
The optic nerve sends electrical impulses from the eyes to the brain. When the optic nerve is inflamed, vision becomes blurred. Optic neuritis is sometimes the first symptom of multiple sclerosis. Autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis are linked to optic neuritis. Diabetics are also susceptible to optic neuritis. Pain behind the eyes when moving the eyes is the most common symptom, but there are many other signs of optic neuritis. Other symptoms include: tender, sore eyes, enlarged central blind spot or mild to severe reduction in vision, blurred vision, decreased peripheral vision and/or color perception, headache, fever, and possibly nausea.
Type II Diabetes can usually be avoided or controlled by maintaining a doctor-recommended weight, exercising regularly and eating right.
Blepharitis: Lid Inflammation
When the eyelid feels swollen, itchy, irritated, or crusty, the diagnosis may be blepharitis. Other symptoms include redness and blurred vision. This acute inflammation has several causes. The condition can occur along with styes and chalarions. A skilled eye doctor can diagnosis blepharitis.
Good lid hygiene helps treat and prevent blepharitis. Thus, people who are prone to this problem should clean their eyelids eyes daily using baby shampoo. See our video about baby shampoo cleaning.
Inflammation and Cataracts
Cataracts is the clouding of the eye’s lens. Many seniors elect to have the lens with the cataract replaced by an artificial lens. A study linked inflammation and oxidization with cataracts.3 They compared biomarkers of inflammation against women with and without cataracts. Those with cataracts had higher indicators of inflammation.
Arthritis and Inflammatory Eye Disease
Connective tissue diseases such as arthritis can affect the eyes. Depending on the primary disease, patients may be more at risk of retinal detachment, keratoconus, or uveitis. Rheumatoid arthritis is linked to corneal melt, scleritis, and scleromalacia perforans.4
Holiday Food Tips
Eating, drinking and being merry for a couple of days a year makes little difference to your health. So long as you do not indulge in a black-out drinking or eating of unhealthy food binge, enjoy! The daily habits are more important.
The problem is that for many people, the holidays run continuously for five weeks. The constant presence of extra sweets and rich foods can do damage. Excess sugar and fat lead aggravate chronic inflammation. Typical weight gain during the holidays is 1 pound. However, this pound is usually not shed later. Thus, after 15 years, that’s 15 extra pounds! Anti-inflammatory tips:
- Fill up on raw vegetable sticks before tucking into higher-calorie foods.
- Frequent snacking adds up. Eat at mealtimes. If you are obligated to snack, limit it to a few bites.
- Avoid vegetables drenched in cream, oils, and sugar. Opt for steamed vegetables instead.
- Anything surrounded by pastry is high in fat and calories. Thus, just taste one or skip it.
- Pecan pie has almost twice as many calories as pumpkin pie, and far more sugar. Discretely look up the nutrient content on your phone once you know the menu.
- Restrict yourself to just one serving of dessert, or two small servings.
- Look for anti-inflammatory foods like leafy green vegetables, nuts, olive oil, fatty fish, fruits and tomatoes.
- Never over-eat.
Did you know that certain vision changes can indicate early-stage Alzheimer’s disease? Alzheimer’s is the #3 killer in the United States, right behind cancer and heart disease. Scientists are researching early detection. Catching this disease in its earliest stages opens up potential treatments, before significant brain damage sets in. Treatments for early Alzheimer’s are also being heavily researched. The retina develops from neural tissue, and the entire eye reflects the health of an individual. Therefore, non-invasive screening tools such as an eye exam could feed clinical trials and lead to effective treatments.
Alzheimer’s is pervasive, affecting 5.2 million Americans. An inexpensive and broadly applied screening tool would flag large numbers of early-stage patients. Eye doctors recommend regular dilated eye exams, every 1 to 2 years. Since ophthalmologists and optometrists are performing eye exams anyway, the results could be a useful screening tool.
Poor Vision and Cognitive Impairment
An investigation published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that those with distance vision worse than 20/40 were three times more likely to have cognitive impairment.1 Near-vision problems were less of an indicator.
Biomarkers of Alzheimer’s
Another study summarized evidence that the eyes can contain biomarkers indicating Alzheimer’s disease.2 The paper described how the eyes are an extension of the central nervous system. Thus, they could provide insight into the patient’s neurological state.
Macular Degeneration and Alzheimer’s
Macular Degeneration is a common but devastating eye disease in seniors. The indicator of Macular Degeneration is pieces of fatty drusen in the macula. These out-of-place lipids cause significant damage to the macula, leading to vision loss. Studies have found Amyloid β in the drusen of some ARMD patients.3 Scientists were also able to find Amyloid β in the lens using a florescent ointment and a harmless laser.4 They pinpointed the Alzheimer’s patients with very high accuracy.
What is good for the eyes is often also good for the brain. At Natural Eye Care, we recommend a healthy lifestyle, good nutrition, and targeted nutrients to keep the eyes — and brain — healthy including lutein, zeaxanthin, astaxanthin, omega-3 fatty acids, alpha lipoic acid, n-acetyl-cysteine, bilberry and more (see recommended formulas such as as our Advanced Eye and Vision Support Formula).
Similar Diseases, Different Locations, Possible Common Treatments
There are many similarities between two age-related diseases (Age-related Macular Degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease) that can affect thousands of people world-wide. In the United States there are 11 million people that have some form of AMD and it is estimated to grow to 22 million by the year 2050. Furthermore, in 2016 it was estimated that the cost to care for those with AMD was $512 billion. Worldwide it is estimated that by 2020, there will be 96 million people with AMD. National Eye Institute
The second aging disorder that causes high degree of damage is Alzheimer’s disease. Presently, in the United States there are 5.4 million people with Alzheimer’s disease and this will increase to approximately 13.8 million by 2050. In 2016, the cost for caring for these patients was $236 billion. Worldwide the numbers of Alzheimer’s patients are estimated to be 44 million and the global cost is $605 billion. Alzheimer’s Association
Similar Risk Factors
The risk factors for both AMD and Alzheimer’s disease are very similar to each other. These include aging, smoking, and high cholesterol. Both diseases are found more frequently in women than men and in approximately 5% to 15% the diseases are found in more than one family member. There is also a genetic risk factor of a lipid transport protein called Apolipoprotein E (ApoE) that provides elevated risk in AMD patients if they carry the allele 2 variant and higher risk in Alzheimer’s patients if they carry the allele 4 variant.
In AMD and Alzheimer’s disease there are 3 events that make the pathologies very similar except that they are found in different locations, either the retina or the brain.
1. Amyloid beta is a protein that is not present in normal tissues but larger quantities accumulate in the brain for Alzheimer’s patients and are identified to be plaques by MRI scans. The presence of these plaques is defining (pathognomonic) for Alzheimer’s disease. In AMD patients amyloid-beta deposits are found to accumulate underneath the retina and form small clumps of protein-lipid materials called drusen. This is significant because the amyloid-beta is very toxic and harmful to the surrounding cells and when it is accumulating in tissues, it causes the cells to be damaged and loss their abilities to function.
2. A second feature of both AMD and Alzheimer’s disease is that there are high levels of tissue damage, loss of function and a lot of cell death in the retina and brain.
3. Finally, both diseases have damage to the mitochondria, which are small units within the cells that are critical to keeping the cells alive. The mitochondria are the “batteries” of the cell providing energy to keep the retina and brain cells functioning. Mitochondria are similar to the batteries in a flashlight. You can have a very expensive flashlight but if you do not have good batteries, the flashlight will not work. It is a similar situation to the cell. As long as the mitochondria are healthy and providing energy the cells can function. However, when the mitochondria start to die, then the cells will lose their functions and cell death will occur. This is true for all types of cells in the body, such as nerve cells, muscle cells, retinal cells, heart cells, etc. In other words, healthy mitochondria are critical to keep cell alive and functioning well.
Using a novel in vitro model called cybrids (cytoplasmic hybrids), Dr. Cristina Kenney’s laboratory has shown that when mitochondria from patients with AMD are placed into specialized human retinal cells, the AMD mitochondria will cause the cells to die more rapidly than normal because they are so damaged. With this important discovery, the goal of the research group has been to identify drugs and proteins/peptides that can rescue the damage AMD mitochondria and protect the retinal cells. Their research is moving forward very quickly and testing drugs is the top priority for Dr. Kenney’s group. By rejuvenating the mitochondria from ‘old-damage’ to ‘new-healthy’ will prolong the health of the retinal cells and protect vision loss from AMD. What is learned in these studies will have long reaching applications to other aging-diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Certain rapid eye movements of a subgroup of people on the Autism Spectrum Disorder may aid in diagnosis. The brain controls the eyes. Therefore, certain eye movement tests provide insight into the brain’s functioning.
Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center1 studied “saccades.” These are the rapid eye movements people make when shifting their attention from one object to another. A neurotypical person has saccades that are precise, rapid and accurate. However, certain people on the autism spectrum have noticeably different saccades.
The study required subjects to track a target on a screen visually. The targets were designed to cause the subject’s focus to overshoot the target often. Neurotypical subjects corrected their eye movements after trying the task a few times. Autistic subjects kept missing the target. This indicated impairment in the cerebellum’s sensory-motor controls that handle eye movement.
Fetal Eye Development and Autism
During fetal development, the neural plate develops two tiny dimples. These dimples develop into the retinas. Therefore, the retina is actually neural tissue. The eyes and vision are part of the central nervous system. The fetus floats in amniotic fluid. When the mother shifts position, the fetus learns a sense of balance (the vestibular system). One theory of autism is that disruptions occurred that hampered fetal vestibular development. Vision is closely linked to the sense of balance.
Abnormal Eye Movements
The abnormal eye movements in the study indicate cerebellum dysfunction. The researchers believe that they may also offer explanations for social and communication deficits in autistic individuals.
Autism is a broad spectrum of symptoms that vary widely between individuals. Therefore, treatment is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Doctors are aiming to provide very detailed diagnoses (phenotypes). Specific diagnoses could lead to more effective treatments.
The hope is that further research will lead to more treatments. Helping autistic patients improve their saccade adaptation could help heal the brain and alleviate autistic symptoms.