Glaucoma currently affects more than 3 million people in the United States. The National Eye Institute (NEI) projects that this number will rise to 4.2 million by 2030, a 58% increase. Therefore the NEI are trying to raise awareness of the disease and this is hugely relevant in the UK. Around one in 50 people over 40 in the UK is estimated to have glaucoma. However this figure increases to 1 in 10 people once you get over the age of 75.
The World Health Organization estimates that 4.5 million people worldwide are blind due to glaucoma.
There is no cure for glaucoma yet. However medication or surgery can slow or prevent further vision loss. But early detection is vital to stopping the progress of the disease. It is essential that those people most at risk, attend regular eye tests every 12 to 18 months.
What are the Glaucoma risk factors?
- People over the age of 60
- People from an ethnic background especially Asian & African women
- People with diabetes or hypothyroidism
- People who have undergone eye surgery
- People with nearsightedness (myopia)
- People who have suffered eye injuries such as retinal detachment, eye inflammations & tumours
- People on long term corticosteroids & eye drops containing corticosteroids
However it would appear that many people in these high risk groups are not heeding the call to attend regular eye check ups which would lead to glaucoma being diagnosed at an early stage and hopefully start a treatment programme to prevent vision loss and blindness.
Details of the Study into Glaucoma
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Ophthalmology shows that a diet rich in leafy green vegetables might reduce the risk of this debilitating disease. The team from Brigham & Women’s hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts investigated data from 63,893 women and 41,094 men over a period of between 26 & 28 years.
All the participants were over the age of 40 and had no history of primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG). This is the most common form of glaucoma and is characterised by an increase in eye pressure leading to a gradual loss of vision. It is thought that impaired blood flow in the optic nerve leads to clogging of the eye’s drainage channels thus increasing the pressure within the eye.
Dietary nitrate derived from leafy green vegetables is converted to nitrous oxide and has been shown to be beneficial for blood circulation.
The research team wanted to see if an increase in nitrate might have a positive effect on glaucoma.
They found that the group consuming the most nitrogen had a 20-30% lower risk of POAG. The results were even more substantial for a type of glaucoma known as POAG with early paracentral visual field loss. In this case, nitrogen rich diets lessened the chances of developing the disease by 40-50%.
Dietary nitrates are thought to help keep oxygen levels high in the blood thus reducing the thickness of the blood, lowering blood pressure and preventing potentially dangerous clotting.
There are several nitrate rich vegetables but the ones found to have the most significant effect were kale and collard or spring greens. These were found to reduce the odds of developing POAG by 55-70% with a relatively small intake of more than one serving per month.
Collard greens or spring greens as they are known in UK
If you would like to increase your intake of nitrate rich vegetables, these are some of the best sources:
- Collard/Spring greens
- Green beans
- Pak Choi
There is evidence that a diet rich in these is beneficial to various aspects of our health including the prevention of glaucoma. There are many ways they can be incorporated into your diet in the form of soups, stews, stir fries and salads. What are your favourites?
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