The eye, the brain and the body are inextricably interconnected. As an eye doctor, I am reminded of this every day when dealing with “eye” diseases that are really whole body or lifestyle issues. These include glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic eye disease, dry eye and even myopia (nearsightedness – which increases the likelihood of these others).
A sick eye, especially in chronic conditions like those cited, does not occur in isolation, but results from a sick body or unhealthy behaviors. Preventing, or modulating, diseases is more effective than treating them after they occur, especially if treatment only involves a pill, injection or surgery. It would be nice if a cholesterol or blood pressure pill was all you needed and then you could eat fast food three times a week, sit on the couch and watch TV. Unfortunately, regardless of what the TV drug ads imply, it doesn’t work that way.
Living a healthy lifestyle is simple, but it is not easy. As a friend of mine says: “You’ve got to stop stuff, eat stuff and do stuff.” The stopping stuff and doing stuff may be the trickiest parts. But the eating (and not eating) stuff is just as important.
Exercise and diet affect everything. Exercise, particularly aerobic – even as little as 20 minutes of brisk walking 3 times a week – improves blood flow, which allows more oxygen to reach tissues and cells, which improves cellular health and resilience. This is particularly valuable in preventing or reducing the impact of macular degeneration – and it’s a whole lot more fun than getting injections in the eye. Similar benefits are noted with glaucoma and cataracts. For diabetes, exercise reduces insulin levels and improves blood sugar control.
Dry eye is an increasingly common chronic condition, and for many, more than a minor annoyance. Hours staring at devices leads to eyestrain and reduced blinking, making the eyes less clear and comfortable. In the long term, it sets off an inflammatory cascade leading to constant discomfort, blurred vision and increased risk of eye infections. Now, think of your kids spending hours every day glued to a device six inches away. How will their eyes feel when they are your age? There is not enough space to address how this may affect nearsightedness and the risks associated with it.
Finally, the effects of chronic stress include chronic inflammation in the body and mind. Beyond high blood pressure and heart disease, stress and inflammation play direct roles in macular degeneration, dry eye and glaucoma. Mindfulness meditation can reduce intraocular pressure and stress hormones in the blood, plus it can make you feel good. Diet impacts health. Consume everything in moderation, eat “real” food, eat less often, and eat lots of veggies.
Contributed by Dr. Steve Jacobs
Dr. Steve Jacobs is passionate about the role of diet, exercise, stress, behavior and good or bad habits on eye health. Call his Blacksburg office to set a time to chat with him about long-term strategies to protect your vision. 540-953-0136.