By Andy Rosenfarb, ND, LAc.
Glaucoma is not just an eye disease; it’s an effect of a larger systemic disease pattern. In the field of holistic eye care, we realize that symptoms like peripheral vision loss (tunnel vision) and increased eye pressure are always effects of underlying health conditions. We need to understand and correct the underlying causes – treating symptoms has proven to be insufficient. Unlike conventional medicine, we do not try to control symptoms, we seek the root cause.
Primary GoalsThe primary goals are clinical objectives involved in addressing glaucoma include:
- Regulate Autonomic Nervous System & Control the Global Stress Response
- Regulate Oxygen Supply to the Eyes
- Regulate Blood Sugar (Glucose) Supply to the Eyes
- Regulate & Control Inflammatory Response
- Promote Neuro-Protection by Activating Antioxidant Production
- Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) Support
Reporting the Research
Specific herbs, vitamins and minerals and alternative therapies support and regulate each of the above stated objectives. I am working on putting together a research report demonstrating clear evidence-based research supporting this information. My goal is to have it available within the next year. Some of the supplements are already well known like Ginko, Turmeric, dang gui, bilberry, ginseng salvia, fish oil and more recently resveratrol. These among others are widely known nutrients and botanicals and have been used for thousands of years. It is just now that they are being researched and increasing evidence is supporting their efficacy. It is not enough to just say that “X” herb is helpful for glaucoma, we must understand why, when and how to use them. For example:
ANS Support – Ginseng
Oxygenation – Dang Gui, Salvia, Ginko
Blood Sugar Stabilization – (proper diet and nutrition)
Neuro Inflammation – Tumeric, Resveratrol
Neuro Protection – Alpha Lipoic Acid, N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)
Fatty Acid Support – DHA, Omega 3, 6, 9
When we collectively consider and regulate all of potential trouble spots that may result in conditions like Glaucoma, we often see improvement in the overall health, and the condition of glaucoma may begin to improve. In many cases there is even some restoration of lost vision. When the above physiological processes are regulated we revitalize the dormant cells in the eyes. Dormant cells may be inactive, but are not dead or totally dysfunctional. It has been suggested by many experts in the field of neuro science that as long as the nucleolus of the cell is still alive and functioning, a cell may be restored to its normal, healthy state.
Dysfunctional Automonic Nervous System
In the field of holistic eye care, we never treat specific eye diseases, in this case Glaucoma. We treat the patient based on comprehensive clinical findings that paint a picture of a patient’s entire state of health. We make global observations about peoples’ overall health as they relate to certain health conditions – like Glaucoma. In this case we can say based on the holistic model that Glaucoma is an effect of an underlying dysfunction of the body’s Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). There is an overwhelming base of evidence in the field of neuro-science that supports this theory and it seems to be extremely accurate.
In my years of clinical experience I observed that most of my patients with glaucoma had one or more of the following co-existing conditions: hypertension, elevated cholesterol, poor peripheral circulation, poor kidney function (based on blood test analysis), elevated homocystene & C-reactive protein (cardio inflammatory-stress markers), urination problems, poor digestion, poor hearing, poor memory, etc. Conventional medicine has recently been looking at each one of these as a causative factor for glaucoma including cardiovascular disease and H-pylori as possible causes for glaucoma. After spending much time researching brain and neuro science, it become obvious to me that the common thread in this clinical picture was improper functioning of the ANS. Although conventional medicine and the pharmaceutical companies have attempted to put out countless drugs in an attempt to regulate the ANS, none seem to be as effective as alternative therapies.
Regulating ANS with Acupuncture
In my experience there is nothing that regulates the ANS more effectively and more rapidly than acupuncture performed by a well trained professional. Acupuncture falls under the category of Sensory-Based Therapies (SBT). Drugs work fast but there are always side effects, acupuncture and most SBT’s have little or no known negative side effects. Risks only occur when acupuncture is performed by someone who is poorly trained. This includes physicians, or “Medical Acupuncturists” who have taken weekend courses or a 300 hour course (mostly on video). Be sure to ask about both training and experience if you wish to seek out acupuncture. There are few well trained acupuncturists who specialize in the treatment of eye disease and I train quite a few each year. You will find practitioners all over the country and our clinic is happy to help you find someone in your area that may be able to help you, a friend or family member.
The goal is to use safe and natural methods that will help improve and support the healthy regulation of the entire ANS, circulation, inflammation, glucose, and neuro-protective mechanism. Supporting these processes may dramatically slow the rate of or arrest the progression of degenerative vision loss. Other effective holistic therapies include supplementation (herbs, vitamins minerals), exercise, relaxation techniques, massage, diet, stress management, meditation, and lifestyle modifications.
I often get asked by my patients, “Why doesn’t my doctor know about or recommend alternative therapies?” There may be a host of reasons but the most common response I hear is that there is a lack of peer reviewed double-blind scientific research supporting it’s efficacy. That position is simply untrue.
It is a fact that there is little research performed in the US on the efficacy of alternative modalities that have positive effects on patients diagnosed with glaucoma. This is mainly because drugs are more profitable than herbs, and therapies l ike acupuncture are much more cost effective and hold significantly lower risk than eye surgery or medication. Here are some research studies on glaucoma and acupuncture that show a positive outcome. We can expect that there will always be someone who will criticize and the research methodology:
Acupuncture For Patients With Glaucoma
EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing, Volume 1, Issue 5, Pages 372-376
M.Kurusu, K.Watanabe, T.Nakazawa, T.Seki, H.Arai, H.Sasaki, N.Fuse, M.Tamai
Henry H.L. Chan, Mason C.P. Leung, Kwok-Fai So. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. April 2005, 11(2): 315-322. doi:10.1089/acm.2005.11.315.
Teh-Ching Chu, David E. Potter. Journal of Ocular Pharmacology and Therapeutics. August 2002, 18(4): 293-305. doi:10.1089/10807680260218461.
It is not possible to patent herbs, vitamins, or minerals and therefore little money can be made – pharmaceutical companies are in the business of mass producing highly profitable drugs, and making sure that we stay on those drugs. It is in the company’s best interest to keep any new research on any non-medical beneficial information for glaucoma (and other health conditions), that is non-drug related from the general public. Why? Because it takes away from their profits. It is a sad truth that our country is “Pharmaceutically Biased” rather than “Scientifically Based.”
Virtually No Side Effects
The greatest advantage in using nutritional supplementation and sensory based therapies like acupuncture is that there are virtually no side effects. Cautions should be used when recommending supplements so as to avoid any negative herb-drug interactions. A well trained practitioner will be aware of these contra-indications. In general, holistic therapies are safe and pose little risk. Of course glaucoma meds have a lot of side effects including eye irritation, blood pressure irregularities, fatigue, frequent urination, headaches, etc. The risk of eye surgery and invasive procedures are present and there are increased risks for causing further damage to the eyes. Holistic therapies will not make vision worse, unless used by someone who is inadequately trained. The worst case scenario with holistic eye therapies is that they won’t work. The risks are small and the potential upside is great.
With the growing amount of information available on the internet, the public is rapidly becoming more aware of this state of affairs. New research on alternative treatments is showing up on sites like Google Scholar and other research-based web sites. Here are a few research abstracts that investigate the link between glaucoma and cardiovascular disease. They are on the right track but seem to be missing the ANS component:
The Role of Age and Cardiovascular Disease in Glaucomatous Optic Neuropathy1
Survey of Ophthalmology, Volume 43, Issue null, Pages S27-S42, S.Hayreh.
Retinal Microvascular Abnormalities and their Relationship with Hypertension, Cardiovascular Disease, and Mortality
Survey of Ophthalmology, Volume 46, Issue 1, Pages 59-80
T.Wong, R.Klein, B.Klein, J.Tielsch, L.Hubbard, F.Nieto
Relationship between Helicobacter pylori infection and glaucoma
Ophthalmology, Volume 108, Issue 3, Pages 599-604, J.Kountouras
The first two studies suggest the cardiovascular link to glaucoma, which we now know is rooted in ANS dysfunction. The third study suggests the link between glaucoma and H-pylori. The ANS also regulates digestion; impaired ANS regulation will have a degenerative effect on the Gastro-intestinal function rendering it more susceptible to infections like H-pylori. Do your own research and find out what is available to you!
About Dr. Rosenfarb
Dr. Andy Rosenfarb, ND, L.Ac. is an international leading authority on holistic eye health. He is a doctor of Naturopathy and a Licensed Acupuncturist. Dr. Rosenfarb has dedicated his life’s work to uncovering the underlying causes of degenerative vision loss. He has also created Acu-Gen, a holistic system that supports eye health. Acu-Gen has shown to be extremely helpful for most degenerative vision loss cases. Dr. Rosenfarb is the author of “Healing Your Eyes with Chinese Medicine.”