Vision-related problems are rapidly growing and as a result, the optometrist business is booming.
There are many different eye issues that one can suffer from, such as myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (far-sightedness), glaucoma (which has a lot of subgroups itself), diabetic retinopathy, neuropathy, etc.
It’s predicted that by 2020 2.5 billion people will suffer from myopia alone, and this doesn’t even include the other eye conditions (R). It’s called the myopia pandemic.
I value my eyesight very dearly, and I’m sure you do to and want to take care of them as best as possible for as long as possible. We only have one pair of eyes, and they are well worth taking care of to the best of our ability.
Although I didn’t have much vision problems growing up, after going through a severely stressful period for a few years, both my wife and my vision took a bad turn. We started suffering from eye floaters, blurry vision, struggling to see far, burning eyes, eye irritation, etc. Luckily we did get it sorted naturally and we’re definitely glad we did.
So we decided to put together this article/guide on how to protect your eyes in general as well as potentially help to restore some lost vision.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about the eye and how it functions because that knowledge won’t be very helpful in terms of restoring vision. What will be helpful though is sharing knowledge about which supplements and eye drops are beneficial to take and how to optimize your diet and lifestyle.
But here are just a few basics about the eye that can be beneficial to know:
- The eye is directly exposed to air and there is a lot of oxygen inside the eye. Oxygen can be reactive and cause damage and that’s why there are more than normal amounts of anti-oxidants in the eye.
- There is a vasculature system in the eye to supply blood and nutrients. When the eye doesn’t get enough oxygen, the vascular system increases, which can contribute to vision issues. More on that later.
- The eyes are extensively innervated with nerves, so any neurological damage can negatively affect eyesight.
- Muscles in the eyes control the curvature of the lens, which is necessary for far and near vision. When the nervous system isn’t properly balanced (parasympathetic- and sympathetic nervous system), far and/or near-sightedness can occur.
- The parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) is involved in near-sightedness. If you’re calm and relaxed or maybe even tired and fatigued, you should be able to see close objects clearly. Your pupils will also be more constricted (smaller) when you’re parasympathetic dominant. As a side note, serotonin also promotes pupil constriction (R).
- The sympathetic nervous system (fight and flight) is involved is far sight. If you get a fright or take a cold shower you’ll notice your far vision might be better. Your pupils will also be more dilated (bigger) when you’re parasympathetic dominant.
Dopamine, sunlight, and exercise
The myopia boom is hypothesized to be caused by a lack of being outdoors and getting lots of sunlight.
There are lots of benefits to being outside. Being outside in bright light increases the synthesis of dopamine and vitamin D lowers stress, increases BDNF and lowers oxidative stress just to name a few.
Dopamine (DA) is an important neurotransmitter in the retina and mediates diverse functions including retina development, visual signaling, and refractive development.
Based on epidemiological and animal studies, there is an inverse relationship between outdoor activity and risk of developing myopia and between light exposure, vitamin D and dopamine release/signaling. The more someone is outside in bright light, the smaller the chance is of getting myopia.
It’s been found that a loss of retinal dopamine leads to vision loss (R). When someone with vision issues is given a dopamine precursor, such as L-dopa, they experienced an overall improvement in retinal and visual functions.
Once you’re outside, you’re not only synthesizing dopamine in the eye, but you’re also moving around. Light intensity exercise has been found to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes the synthesis of new neurons. It’s also protective against neural loss in the eyes, thus protecting vision.
Research found that animals that do light intensity exercise are protected against vision damage induced by bright light, which is thought to be due to a release in BDNF (R, R). Blocking the receptor that BDNF activates (tropomyosin-receptor-kinase (TrkB)) is shown to reduce retinal function and photoreceptor nuclei count in exercised mice to inactive levels (as if they never exercised); effectively blocking the protective effects seen with aerobic exercise (R).
On the other hand, too much exercise can increase cortisol, which is harmful and catabolic to the eyes. If you constantly have to push yourself to exercise and motivate yourself, the exercise is most likely not doing you much good. Fun, enjoyable and non-exhaustive exercise/activity has the most beneficial.
If the benefits are through BDNF we can simply use other BDNF promotes as well to improve eye health.
Resistance exercise, 7,8-dihydroxyflavone, lion’s mane mushroom, forskolin, histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDAC), such as valproic acid and niacinamide, can increase BDNF and improve vision (R, R, R, R, R).
Stress and Serotonin
Stress, especially long term stress, has many detrimental and destructive effects on the body. Only recently has the connection been made between vision loss and stress.
In fact, continuous stress and elevated cortisol levels negatively impact the eye and brain due to the autonomous nervous system (sympathetic) imbalance and vascular dysregulation; hence stress may also be one of the major causes of visual system diseases such as glaucoma and optic neuropathy.
The overexposure of the brain and eyes to cortisol can become toxic to neurons, e.g. in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, as well as in the retinal tissue of the eye (R).
My wife and I experienced vision issues due to stress.
Under stress, angiotensin (involved in high blood pressure), endothelins, estrogen, serotonin, vasopressin, aldosterone, etc., become elevated and they all contribute to vascularization of the eye, vascular leakage, and inflammation.
Estrogen and progesterone
Estrogen increases water retention in the eye (R), which reduces cellular function and this can lead to an increase in intraocular pressure, an increase in reactive oxygen species, oxidative stress and nerve damage. Progesterone, on the other hand, is protective, restructures the cell and has neuroprotective properties (R).
Serotonin is another guilty party here. The reason I’m pointing it out is because so many people are on SSRI drugs or some kind of serotonergic substance.
The most commonly-reported ophthalmic side effect of SSRIs is acute glaucoma (R).
From this paper (R): (emphasis mine)
“With long-term SSRI treatment, it has been suggested that multiple transient vasospasms in the optic nerve could progressively induce a manifest ischaemic optic neuropathy. This has already been predicted pharmacologically. Costagliola et al described a mechanism for vasospasm in the optic nerve, postulating that increased plasma serotonin levels may be a factor, or a cofactor, in the development of optic nerve perfusion disorders.3 In individuals with atherosclerotica the susceptibility becomes higher due to serotonin-enhancing platelet aggregation on atheromata of ocular arteries.”
Stress management should always be a top priority in my opinion. Listening to relaxing music, walking outdoors in nature, playing your pet/s, spending quality time with your spouse, doing slow deep breathing (such as 4 seconds inhale, 7 second hold and 8 second exhale), consuming calories (not stress eating, but carbs and protein can have a calming effect) can all have a calming effect.
As mentioned earlier, reactive oxygen species (ROS), induced by toxins, blue light, low anti-oxidants, reduced cellular function, heavy metals, etc., can induce damage to the eye. Most commonly, excess ROS results in cellular degeneration, which is involved in many ocular diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration, retinopathy of prematurity, retinal light damage, primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), and cataracts.
So our goal is to protect the cells and neurons with anti-oxidant and neuroprotective substances.
1. Taurine, a naturally occurring amino acid, has multitudinous benefits and is known for its neuroprotective and antioxidant properties (R). Taurine promotes neurogenesis, stabilizes cell membranes, is neuroprotective, lowers excess nitric oxide (NO) production (NO is a free radical), optimizes glucose and fat oxidation, lowers lactate and hypoxia (thus preventing excess vascularization), etc. Colostrum and shellfish, such as clams, oysters and scallops are great natural sources of taurine. Read more on taurine here.
A supplement which is a combination of taurine and magnesium (magnesium acetyltaurate) (MgAT), provides neuroprotection against endothelin and NMDA induced retinal and optic nerve damage (R). The effect of MgAT, is greater than that of taurine alone (R). Read more on magnesium here.
I don’t think it’s necessary to get that specific magnesium taurine combination, but separate magnesium and taurine should have the same benefits.
Homotaurine, which is very similar to taurine, also has neuroprotective effects and can be found in eye drops (R). If looking for an oral supplement, taurine would suffice as homotaurine is more difficult to source.
2. Methylene blue, a synthetic blue dye, is potent anti-inflammatory, lowers ROS and excess NO, improves mitochondrial function and energy production and is neuroprotective (R). Methylene blue accumulates in the neurons, where it provides the most benefit. Between 100mcg to 1mg oral methylene blue is a good dose.
3. Persimmon leaves extract lowers IOP and has neuroprotective properties (R).
4. TUDCA is a secondary bile acid found in small amounts in our guts (R). Oral TUDCA supplementation has been shown to lower oxidative stress, improve gut and liver health, lower inflammation, and have a beneficial effect on eye health (R). This is most likely because TUDCA, which acts as an anti-biotic, effectively lowers endotoxins, which promotes inflammation in the eyes. Less endotoxins = better eye health. Read more on TUDCA here.
9. Rosmarinic acid is a potent antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory effect in the eyes (R). Rosmarinic acid is found in basil, holy basil (Tulsi), lemon balm, rosemary, oregano, sage, thyme and peppermint.
10. Rutin is a natural bioflavonoid that has been shown to improve ocular blood flow, have antioxidant properties and enhance electroretinogram recovery in experimental glaucoma models (R). Rutin is found in capers, black olives, Buckwheat, asparagus, black raspberry, red raspberry, and citrus.
11. Vitamin B1. The recent Rotterdam study, a prospective population-based cohort of 3502 participants, showed that a low intake of retinol equivalents and vitamin B1 appears to be associated with an increased risk of open-angle glaucoma (R). Vitamin B1 is essential for glucose oxidation and lowering lactate and hypoxia. More on vitamin B1 here.
12. Vitamin B2. Vitamin B2 is also essential for energy production as well as for maintaining glutathione levels, which quenches free radicals. Vitamin B2 deficiency is also associated with cataracts (R). Both my wife and I experience an improvement in vision when we started vitamin B2 supplementation at 100mg daily. More on vitamin B2 here.
13. Lutein and Zeaxanthin (R). These two compounds act as anti-oxidants in the eyes, but the jury is still out if supplementing with these compounds actually improves eye health (although they definitely protect against the progression of deterioration). So instead of supplementing them, eat food rich in these compounds. Lutein is found in kale, dandelion, turnip greens, spinach, swiss chard and other veggies. Zeaxanthin is found in paprika, corn, saffron and goji berries.
14. Citicoline (aka CDP-choline) is a form of choline that is thought to be the safest form of choline supplement. “The mechanisms of its action appear to be multifarious including (i) preservation of cardiolipin, sphingomyelin, and arachidonic acid contents of phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine, (ii) restoration of phosphatidylcholine, (iii) stimulation of glutathione synthesis, (iv) lowering glutamate concentrations and preventing glutamate excitotoxicity, (v) rescuing mitochondrial function thereby preventing oxidative damage and onset of neuronal apoptosis, (vi) synthesis of myelin leading to improvement in neuronal membrane integrity, (vii) improving acetylcholine synthesis and thereby reducing the effects of mental stress and (viii) preventing endothelial dysfunction” (R, R). And it’s also found to be neuroprotective in humans (R). Citicoline can be found as an oral supplement and also in eye drops. Citicoline also enhances focus and attention, so you get both eye protection and improved mental capacity. A double whammy.
15. Erigeron breviscapus (R). It’s a Chinese species of flowering plants in the daisy family which lowers oxidative stress, inflammation and has neuroprotective effects.
16. Forskolin, a compound found in the Forskolli plant, which improves blood flow in the eye and increases BDNF, thus providing neuroprotective and neurogenesis benefits. Gangliolife, a supplement for eye health found in Italy, contains 150 mg of Coleus forskohlii extract titrated at 10% in forskolin (15 mg), and enriched with homotaurine (100 mg), L-carnosine (50 mg), vitamins B1 (1.1 mg), B2 (1.4 mg), B6 (1.4 mg), folic acid (0.2 mg), and magnesium (150 mg).
1. N-acetylcarnosine eyedrop therapy is the crown jewel of the anti-aging medical movement and revolutionizes early detection, treatment, and rejuvenation of aging-related eye-disabling disorders (R). It has a very wide range of anti-oxidant benefits and it buffers pH in the eye and has heavy metal chelating activities.
N-acetylcarnosine eyedrops promote healthy vision and prevent vision disability from senile cataracts, primary open-angle glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and aging. Proper concentrations are at 1%.
Beta-alanine supplementation might be able to increase carnosine content in the eyes. 3-5g daily should do the trick. If you’re going to supplement beta-alanine, take taurine with it as beta-alanine can deplete taurine levels.
3. CoQ10 and vitamin E combination eye drops (R). This product goes by the name of Coqun®. This combination is better than either one alone. CoQ10 lowers oxidative stress, glutamate, improves energy production and has neuroprotective properties. Vitamin E also supports energy production and protects the unsaturated fat in the eye from oxidative stress.
Erythropoietin is a glycoprotein cytokine secreted mainly by the kidney to stimulate the production of red blood cells. Athletes are most known for using it to enhance exercise performance. A lesser-known fact is that erythropoietin can regenerate nerves, lower oxidative stress and protect the eye against damage (R).
Take care of your gut
Gut bacteria serve many functions, but an excess can be detrimental. One such side effect is induced by gram-negative bacteria, which creates endotoxins. An overgrowth of gram-negative can produce an excess of endotoxins, which is highly toxic to the body.
Endotoxins are naturally absorbed in small amounts where they are detoxed by the liver. When absorbed in large amounts, they overwhelm the detox capacity of the liver and create inflammation everywhere in the body including the eyes (R). Endotoxins in the eyes contribute to uveitis, which is one of the most harmful ocular conditions and can affect any part of the eye (R).
First on the list to fight back, we want to make sure we don’t have an excess of gram-negative bacteria. These bacteria can start to multiply out of control when we’re on a poor diet. Anti-bacterial substances that can kill these bacteria include, monolaurin, flowers of sulfur, oregano-, thyme-, garlic- and cinnamon essential oil, Tulsi, haritaki, olive leaf extract, wormwood, etc.
Then you can bind those dead bacteria with activated charcoal, bentonite clay, or a fiber sources such as white button mushrooms, cellulose, grated carrot, etc.
Eating too much high fiber food can irritate the gut and cause a surge in endotoxins. So any food that you feel is giving you negative symptoms (such as irritability, bloating, cramps, sinus, headache, fatigue, etc.) would be best avoided.
A proper diet is the cornerstone of health. Without a proper diet, recovery of health will be very difficult if not impossible. Let’s discuss what food can have a beneficial effect on eye health.
Research found that people who consume more meat had a lower risk of getting glaucoma (R).
Antioxidant-rich food has also been shown to be highly beneficial. In this study, there was a protective trend against glaucoma in those consuming more fruit and fruit juice, with special emphasis on fresh oranges and peaches, and collard greens and kale (R).
Additionally, carob, parley, goji berries, blueberries (and berries in general), anthocyanin-rich bilberry, dark chocolate, and red wine reduce oxidative stress, lower inflammation, improve blood flow and reduce eye damage (R, R, R).
Low intake of vitamin B1 is associated with an increased risk of developing glaucoma. A synthetic derivative of vitamin B1 (Sulbutiamine) displays neuroprotective effects on cultured retinal ganglion cells (R, R). Foods rich in vitamin B1 include pork, macadamia nuts, potatoes, oranges, oats, and brown rice.
As discussed above, vitamin B2, C and E also improve eye health. Food sources of vitamin B2 include liver, kidney, eggs, milk, turkey, spinach, beet greens and other leafy greens.
Vitamin C sources include kale, citrus, kiwi, bell pepper, acerola cherry, cantaloupe, papaya, guava, black currant, lychees, etc.
Since the eye is very rich in omega 3 fatty acids, primary open-angle glaucoma patients have reduced levels of blood docosahexaenoic (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acids (EPA) (R). But this is not necessarily due to a low intake of these fatty acids, but rather an increase in oxidative stress, which is destroying these fats. So the focus should be on lowering oxidative stress. I also don’t recommend supplementing fish oils, but rather get your omega 3s from sources such as Salmon, Salmon roe, oysters, clams, shrimp, seabass, etc.
To sum it all up, eat enough meat and lots of fruit.
Dangers of blue light
Blue light “consumption” has increased exponentially over the last couple of decades since the computer and cellphone became available.
Screens emit a large amount of blue light, which can cause oxidative stress to the eyes, destabilize cell membranes, increase leakiness, contribute to eye strain and fatigue and lower melatonin, which contributes to feeling awake and not wanting to go to bed. Red light has the opposite effect.
Light in general causes damage to the retina (phototoxicity) and decreases photoreceptor responses to light. The most harmful component of visible light is the blue wavelength (400–500 nm).
As you can see from the graphs above demonstrating the different light sources and their light spectrums; midday sun is much more blue light dominant than evening light, which means that midday light can be more harmful to your eyes.
There are a couple of things you can do to protect your eyes from the blue light. For your computer/laptop, you can install a blue light filter app, such as F.lux (free) or Iris tech (paid for). Iris tech is better than F.lux because it:
- Controls the brightness (or Kelvin) of your monitor
- Reduces flicker. Flicker results in damage to the photoreceptor cells in the eye. This causes headaches, poor eyesight, brain fog, lack of focus, sleep disruption, etc
- Allows you to adjust the font to be more eye-friendly
- Allows you to optimize screen pulsations, thus reducing eye strain
- Allows you to switch your monitor to “paper view” (like a Kindle)
Alternatively, you can get blue light blocker glasses. Neither the blue light filter app nor the glasses block 100% of the blue light but they do partially.
According to this paper (R): “All tested blue-light filtering spectacle lenses theoretically reduced the calculated phototoxicity by 10.6% to 23.6%. Although the use of the blue-light filters also decreased scotopic sensitivity by 2.4% to 9.6%, and melatonin suppression by 5.8% to 15.0%”.
So these apps and glasses aren’t perfect, but they can be helpful, especially for those who experience eye strain and sleep disruptions due to the blue light (R).
I like to have my phone on “Reading mode” at all times to make things easier on my eyes. You can also install blue light filter apps (such as sleep-aware or something similar) on your phone to reduce the intensity of the blue light if you don’t have a “reading mode” (R).
A good brand for blue light blocking glasses is TrueDark.
Additional tricks are to:
- Use an Anti-Glare Computer Monitor.
- Install incandescent bulbs in your home with a color temperature of 2700K, such as the Vintage Incandescent Edison Light Bulbs.
- Stick a red tape over all the small lights, such as the refrigerator light, laptop lights, LED lights, etc., to reduce their blue light emission.
What else can you do to improve your vision?
Use the Vision gym program
Get proper sleep
Also completely avoid taking your phone to bed and avoid staying up with your laptop or phone until before bed. It’s important for your brain and eyes to be relaxed before getting into bed so that you can have a good night’s rest. Also, make sure to put your phone on flight mode before you go to bed so that the WiFi signals don’t interfere with your sleep and recovery.
Avoid heavy metals
Human exposure to heavy metals come from a number of sources including cigarette smoke, air pollution, industrial waste, emissions from fossil fuels, leaching from landfills, fertilizers, corrosion of plumbing and green mass-produced leafy vegetables.
To avoid that, don’t smoke, install air filters if you’re in an area with a lot of air pollution, and try to get your food from high-quality sources that you know have good agricultural ethics/practices and don’t use toxic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc.
Take frequent breaks
Take a break from what you’re doing on your phone or laptop at least every 30-50 minutes and walk to a window where you can look outside and get a bit of a view of landscape/nature (even if it’s just a few trees) and sky. Apart from resting your eyes, you also increase your activity level, which can help with blood flow, uplift your mood, improve insulin sensitivity and will also help with to burn fat.
Another trick you can do is the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. I prefer to walk to the window and stare as far as I can to force my eyes to look as far as possible for about 2-5 minutes every 30-45 minutes.
The basic steps that we took to improve our vision was:
- Eat a nutritious, anti-oxidant rich, non-gut irritating diet
- Minimize stress and supplement adaptogens, such as Tribulus Terrestris
- Get lots of sunlight
- Get out in nature
- Optimize sleep
- Take frequent breaks from our laptops
- Use N-acetylcarnosine eye drops
- Supplement taurine, vitamin B1, B2, niacinamide, vitamin C, magnesium, TUDCA and methylene blue.
As always, thanks so much for reading my article. Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions. And if you found this article to be insightful and helpful please like and share so this information can help others as well.
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