Turmeric Compounds Could Help Prevent or Slow Glaucoma
One of the leading causes of blindness, glaucoma develops from damage to the optic nerve. Increased fluid pressure in the eye is the most common cause of optic nerve damage, but not the only one. Can you prevent this damage naturally? Studies suggest that turmeric compounds may help. (viii.68, 113)
Causes and Risk Factors for Glaucoma
Diabetics have double the risk of developing glaucoma compared to non-diabetic adults. Typically in diabetics the abnormally high pressure in the vitreous fluid of the eye causes damage to the optic nerve, which can lead to blindness. (viii.2, 78)
However, high eye fluid pressure is not always a symptom and cause of the nerve damage. Sometimes abnormal blood vessel formation and inadequate blood flow (ischemia) in the iris and other parts of the eye can also cause glaucoma. (viii.79, 114)
Researchers have found that unhealthy mitochondria (the parts of cells that process energy) in the optic nerve also play a role. Inflammation, free radicals, and ischemia can all damage mitochondria. (viii.114-115)
How Can Turmeric Help?
Research suggests that turmeric compounds (especially curcumin) have properties that protect retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). These cells form the optic nerve, which sends visual signals to and from the brain. What are turmeric's protective properties? How do they work? (viii.61)
- Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. Just as in most of the major eye diseases that cause blindness, such as cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and AMD, inflammation and free radicals damage optic nerve cells. Turmeric and its compounds have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. (viii.24-25, 64, 68)
- Mimicking calorie restriction (CR). Animal studies show that drastically cutting calories protects optic nerve cells from both age and ischemia-related glaucoma. If starving yourself isn't in your plans, substances that mimic CR could do the trick. Turmeric compounds have the same or similar anti-aging effects of CR on the eye. (viii.61)
- Promote healthy blood flow. Vision requires a lot of energy! Blockages or damaged blood vessels don't give eyes the nutrients they need, and ultimately damage optic nerve cells. Many of the compounds found in turmeric keep blood vessels healthy and prevent damage from blockages. (viii.64, 81, 114)
- Protect mitochondria. In both normal and high pressure types of glaucoma, damaged mitochondria don't work well - leading to optic nerve cell injury or death. Compounds in turmeric (such as curcumin and B vitamins) and turmeric oil help keep mitochondria functioning properly and protect them from damage. (viii.45, 114-117)
- Regulate microglia. Although these immune system cells in the brain can protect eye tissue, if they are over-activated they can cause damage to the retina and to the optic nerve. Stimulating PPAR-γ (a protein that regulates gene activity) could help counteract overactive microglia and damaging inflammation. A number of turmeric compounds promote PPAR-γ, including in the brain. (viii.103, 118)
- Prevent plaque and AGEs formation. Amyloid-beta, tau protein clumps, and advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) are all factors that cause brain cell damage in Alzheimer's disease. Now researchers say they can also damage optic nerve cells. Fortunately, turmeric and turmeric compounds have anti-plaque and anti-AGEs properties. (viii.37, 119-121)
Precautions with Some Nutrients
Some compounds in turmeric have had reports of adverse effects or links to glaucoma, despite beneficial properties:
- Population and clinical studies suggest magnesium is beneficial in preventing and treating glaucoma. However, in the Rotterdam population study, high intake of magnesium was linked to an increased risk of open-angle glaucoma. (viii.123, 134, 151)
- Niacin is an antioxidant and is known to help keep blood vessels healthy — both of which can help prevent glaucoma or its progression. However, there has been a case report of an adverse effect of niacin on an elderly patient with glaucoma. When he took a 500 mg niacin supplement, the pressure in his eyes substantially increased. This was reversed when he stopped taking the niacin. (viii.152)
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