Herbs for Healthy Eyes.Eye Diseases.Natural Eye Health Tips
Herbs for Eye HealthEyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) has long been a folk remedy for the eyes. Most natural food stores contain teas, tinctures and homeopathic eyedrops made from this herb. A South African study found that eyebright eyedrops hastened recovery from conjunctivitis (redness and discharge caused by irritation of the outside lining of the eye). Extracts lower blood sugar in diabetic rats. Whether the same effect holds for humans isn’t yet known. (Diabetes raises the risk for several eye diseases—see our sidebar "For Eye Health, Control Blood Sugar.") Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) improves blood flow to the retina (the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye). Preliminary research suggests extracts improve vision in people with glaucoma. It is also antioxidant and protects nerve cells, including those in the eye. Coleus (Coleus forskohlii) contains forskolin. Forskolin eyedrops have been shown to reduce the production of fluid within the eye, thereby reducing pressure. Therefore, it may have relevance in the treatment of glaucoma. Cannabis (Cannabis sativa) contains cannabinoids, which, among many actions, reduce pressure within the eye in people with glaucoma. The first studies were done in people who smoked marijuana and showed that the pressure reduction lasted three to four hours. Subsequent studies have tried different methods to deliver cannabinoids (intravenously, oral or inhaled). The downsides are side effects (dry, pink eyes; reduced blood pressure; alterations in mental state and behavior) and legality (unless you live in a state that has legalized medical cannabis). However, the identification of receptors for cannabinoids in the eye has raised interest in the development of eyedrops. Green tea (Camellia sinensis) contains antioxidants, which mop up free radicals—substances that create the so-called oxidative damage underlying many chronic diseases, including glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts. Furthermore, lab studies show that treating retinal cells with green tea’s polyphenols protects them from damage from ultraviolet light. (Such damage raises the risk for macular degeneration. UV light also contributes to cataracts.)
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) contains potent antioxidant flavonoids called anthocyanins. Its American botanical cousins blueberry and cranberry also contain such chemicals. During World War II, Royal Air Force pilots reported that eating bilberry jam improved their night vision. While initial studies supported such claims, more recent trials have not shown that bilberry benefits include a significant improvement in night vision. Most studies have used healthy volunteers with normal or above-average eyesight. Whether or not bilberry extracts might benefit elders with deteriorating night vision remains to be seen. One recent study did find that anthocyanins from another berry—black currant (Ribes nigrum)—hastened adaptation to the dark and also reduced eye fatigue. Preliminary studies in humans from the 1980s suggested promise for managing cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. Studies in laboratory rats show extracts may defend against cataracts and glaucoma. In other studies, extracts protect nerve cells in the retina, strengthen blood vessels, improve circulation, and block the formation of new blood vessels, a process involved in diseases of the retina such as diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. Leaf and berry extracts also have an antidiabetic effect—a relevant action, given the high risk of eye diseases among diabetics. Many herbs, fruits and vegetables have antioxidant power. Garlic (Allium sativum) is one. Preliminary lab research suggests it may help prevent cataracts. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) contains the potent antioxidant curcumin, which has been shown to protect against cataract formation in rats, both alone and in combination with vitamin E. It’s important to note that most of the eye conditions discussed here come on so slowly that people may not develop noticeable symptoms until the disease has become severe. The best strategy is regular eye examinations. Early detection and prompt treatment can prevent significant visual loss.
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