Is There a Dietary Component to Glaucoma?

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COULD WHAT you eat affect your chances of getting glaucoma, a disease that causes irreversible damage to the optic nerve? Because glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness, Harvard researchers are currently asking that very question--and wondering if the type of fat you eat influences your risk of developing the disease.

To help get at the issue, the investigators analyzed the diets of two large groups of men and women for at least 10 years, examining the relationship between types of dietary fat and glaucoma risk. Only one small group of people--those eating a relatively high proportion of polyunsaturated fats found in vegetable oils such as soybean, sunflower, and safflower oil--appeared to be protected.

Why might that have been? Different fats in the diet lead to the production in the body of different types of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. One of the many roles of prostaglandins is to regulate inner eye pressure, which rises in the most common form of glaucoma when excess fluid can't drain out of narrowed eye canals, if certain types of fat could increase the body's ability to make prostaglandins that decrease eye pressure, the researchers theorize, that could lead to clues about which fats to eat. They derived their theory from the action of widely prescribed glaucoma drugs, which use substances similar to prostaglandins to lower eye pressure.

While the results are intriguing, it's too early to make a public health recommendation, says lead researcher Jae H. Kang, MD. Until more research is done, she comments, "getting eye exams regularly is probably the best way to prevent glaucoma? That's because you can't feel glaucoma developing. It sneaks up without symptoms until peripheral vision is irretrievably lost.

If you do get glaucoma, adhere to your medication regimen, and see your eye doctor regularly to help prevent disease progression.

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