Glaucoma is insidious, cannot be cured, and its effects cannot be reversed, making disease prevention a top priority. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are well positioned to educate patients on dietary changes to reduce glaucoma risk. In honor of National Glaucoma Awareness Month, here are simple diet suggestions you can make to your patients.
Eat a Low-Carb Diet
Diets with a high intake of carbohydrates are correlated with a greater risk of glaucoma, while diets with a low intake of carbohydrates are correlated with a lower risk. A 2020 study published in Eye examined the potential link between primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) and long-term low-carbohydrate dietary patterns.¹ The researchers initially found no correlation between a low-carb diet and increased POAG risk, but found that when a low-carb diet incorporated a higher amount of vegetable-based fat and protein, there was a lower risk of the POAG subtype defined by an initial paracentral visual field loss.
In a 2020 study in Nutrients, Jee and colleagues found that the genetic risk for glaucoma was higher in patients with high carbohydrate intake vs lower carbohydrate intake.²
Limit Caloric Intake
A study by Francisco and colleagues in Nutrients, also published in 2020, examined possible links between dietary patterns and age-related ocular diseases and found that healthy caloric restriction can have a positive effect on the eyes.³ When individuals consume a relatively low amount of calories while still receiving adequate nutrients, they are more likely to trigger what the researchers referred to as “anti-aging mechanisms,” helping them limit ocular dysfunction.
Eat More Leafy Greens
Nitrate-rich foods also may be beneficial for patients’ ocular health, as Francisco and colleagues also found that components in dark-green leafy vegetables (nitric oxide, glutathione, flavonoids, etc) are associated with a decreased risk of developing glaucoma.³ Leafy greens like chard, spinach, arugula, and kale are recommended to reduce the risk of glaucoma.
Eat Antioxidant-Rich Foods
Leafy greens also are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants can help with oxidative stress, which is a risk factor for developing glaucoma. Other foods that are rich in antioxidants include blueberries, strawberries, and pecans.
Limit Selenium Intake
Francisco and colleagues also noted that the mineral selenium has been associated with increased risk for glaucoma development.³ Though there is a minimum daily requirement of selenium, it may be beneficial to tell your patients to limit their quantities of selenium-rich food, such as fish and beef.
It is also important to let your patients know that while nutrition is essential for optimal ophthalmologic health and can reduce the risk of glaucoma, it is only one part of the process. Patients also need to exercise regularly and limit smoking and caffeine consumption. Regular eye examinations also will help to identify early signs of glaucoma.
- Hanyuda A, Rosner BA, Wiggs JL, et al. Low-carbohydrate-diet scores and the risk of primary open-angle glaucoma: data from three US cohorts. Eye (Lond). 2020;34(8):1465-1475. doi:10.1038/s41433-020-0820-5
- Jee D, Huang S, Kang S, Park S. Polygenetic-risk scores for a glaucoma risk interact with blood pressure, glucose control, and carbohydrate intake. Nutrients. 2020;12(11):3282. doi:10.3390/nu12113282
- Francisco SG, Smith KM, Aragonès G, et al. Dietary patterns, carbohydrates, and age-related eye diseases. Nutrients. 2020;12(9):2862. doi:10.3390/nu12092862
This article originally appeared on Ophthalmology Advisor