Seeing clearly now
July 21st 2017, 12:01
Ask most doctors why people develop eye diseases like glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration, and they'll blame it on the fact that eyes just inevitably wear out. Two of those conditions—macular degeneration and cataracts—even have 'age' attached to a particular version of them, as in 'age-related cataracts' and 'age-related macular degeneration' (AMD).
If you've got either of them, according to modern medicine, it's just a bad roll of the dice, likely to have something to do with your genes.
Many leading doctors who specialize in functional medicine beg to disagree. Our eyes, like the rest of us, fall prey to disease because of some sort of stressor, whether nutritional or environmental. And the latest stressor, according to new research, is statins, which are now being linked to the development of cataracts. This ubiquitous cholesterol-lowering drug is handed out to everyone over 50, so it's small wonder that doctors blame the eye problem on age.
But as our cover story this month (page 28) makes clear, cataracts and glaucoma have more to do with nutritional deficiency than time.
This is not news. In 1980, the late Canadian biochemist and nutritional pioneer Dr Abram Hoffer was hailing the findings of nutritional researcher Dr Richard Passwater, who determined that patients with cataracts had one-sixth the amount of selenium in their lens tissues as those with normal eyes.
In fact, as long ago as 1939, researchers in Argentina found that 90 per cent of cataracts improved after being treated with vitamin C for just 10 days. In 1952, American ophthalmologist D.T. Atkinson gave 450 patients with early cataracts 1,000 mg of vitamin C and 20,000 international units (IU) of vitamin A per day. Very few of those given these supplements went on to have surgery.
Early research also found the same with glaucoma: in 1962, vitamin C was found to lower eye pressure.
Over the years, nutritional pioneers went on to discover that eye diseases had everything to do with excess oxidation, the result of free electrons from oxygen binding to biochemicals in ways that damaged them and caused mainly by light.
The cure was simple: antioxidants—vitamin C, vitamin E, glutathione and minerals like selenium—quickly put out these tiny fires.
The key to understanding eye diseases is taking on board the fact that the eye requires a denser level of nutrition than most of the rest of the body. In order to cope with the potentially damaging effects of light, the eyes are greedy consumers of the body's available nutrients; the concentration of vitamin C in the eyes, for instance, is 20 times that in the blood to protect lens protein from becoming opaque.
Once you understand the role of antioxidants in protecting the eyes, the link between statins and cataracts begins to make sense: statins are well known to wipe out the body's stores of coenzyme Q10, a highly potent antioxidant.
As Hoffer discovered in his own patients, nutritional therapy that included antioxidants as well as B vitamins not only slowed the development of cataracts, but actually reversed them.
One of his patients who'd developed cloudy vision at the age of 70 had been taking supplements of vitamin C, vitamin E, thiamine (B1) and niacinamide (B3). Hoffer only added two more supplements—riboflavin (B2) and cod liver oil (rich in vitamins A and D). A year later, the patient's lens had cleared and, within three years, an eye exam found no evidence of cataract. Those three nutrients, at relatively modest doses, were all she needed to resolve
Dr Herschell Boyd, another pioneer in this field, had similar success with glaucoma patients. After giving 50 of his glaucoma patients high doses of vitamin C, their average eye pressure dropped by nearly 6 mmHg.
With such spectacular results achieved by credible researchers, you'd think that medical universities would be lining up to do more research on vitamin C. As one-quarter of the US population aged over 55 has AMD, and cataract removal represents the largest annual payout on Medicare, the cost savings of replacing all the drugs and surgery used to treat these kinds of eye problems with vitamin C would be staggering.
Boyd once asked this of the vice chancellor of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine: why not study antioxidants to cure eye diseases?
The answer? Researchers are paid by research grants from drug companies and the National Institutes of Health, neither of which funds vitamin C research.
At last, perhaps, you're beginning to see it all more clearly now.