Never given much thought to your eye health before? It might be time to start. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show that roughly 93 million Americans are at high risk for serious vision impairment or loss, but only about half have actually sought medical help for potential issues in the past year.
Glaucoma is a particularly common vision condition that affects three million Americans per year. But now, researchers say they’ve found one small diet change that can help prevent its underlying causes without requiring too much extra effort, money, or time.
What Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an eye condition where fluid builds up in the front portion of the eye and puts pressure on the optic nerve, in turn creating issues like vision impairment and blindness. Other side effects of glaucoma include blurry vision, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. While more severe impacts can be avoided with early intervention, glaucoma is still the leading cause of blindness for people over 60, and there’s no known cure at this time.
In addition to medical treatments, doctors and researchers alike have also long been interested in what sort of less invasive lifestyle changes can be made to prevent glaucoma as well as slow or stop the progression of symptoms. Luckily, a new study showing the significant impacts of a particular diet tweak looks promising.
How Can a Plant-Based Diet Help?
New research recently published in Eye Nature looked at data from three different long-term studies tracking the diets of over 185,000 participants between the ages of 40 and 75 to observe carbohydrates’ effects on glaucoma. This included one study that took place over a span of 40 years from 1976 to 2016.
What did they find? While a low-carb or a meat-based diet itself won’t reduce the risk of glaucoma, swapping carbohydrates for plant-based proteins and fats, such as beans and nuts, can reduce the risk of developing glaucoma by up to 20 percent.
Researchers say that their new data falls in line with other work in the field, which shows that healthy fats and proteins can protect the body from certain neurological diseases and disorders. “A diet low in carbohydrates and higher in fats and proteins results in the generation of metabolites favorable for the mitochondrion-rich optic nerve head, which is the site of damage in [primary open angle glaucoma]. This dietary pattern has already been shown to have favorable results for epilepsy and showed some promising results for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases,” explained co-corresponding author Louis R. Pasquale, MD, FARVO, Deputy Chair for Ophthalmology Research for the Mount Sinai Health System.
An extra bonus: Working towards generally substituting carbs for these different plant-based protein- and fat-rich sources may be more practical for many people than something like the keto diet, which requires much stricter attention to daily macronutrients and can have adverse side effects depending on an individual’s medical history.
Instead, take the principles of keto and use it to your advantage: Start with something small like swapping your daily afternoon snack of chips for cashews and watch those health benefits pile up.