Understanding glaucoma: Sneak peek into eye health
Understanding glaucoma: Sneak peek into eye health

Understanding glaucoma: Sneak peek into eye health

The connection between diet and various health conditions has recently gained significant attention. Glaucoma, a leading cause of irreversible blindness, is no exception.

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Understanding how our diet and lifestyle choices affect our risk of developing glaucoma is crucial for preserving our eyesight. 

Glaucoma is an eye condition that can damage the optic nerve due to increased eye pressure. The optic nerve sends visual messages from the eyes to the brain for one to see.  

Damage to the optic nerve can cause vision loss and affect daily activities. Aging increases the risk of developing glaucoma, and early stages might not show symptoms.  

Risk factors 

Various factors can increase the likelihood of developing glaucoma. People over 60 are at higher risk of developing glaucoma. Having a family member with glaucoma also increases a person’s chances of developing it. 

Elevated fluid  pressure in the eye is a significant risk factor. Medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease can also increase the risk.

Diet, glaucoma connection

Recent research suggests that diet and lifestyle choices can influence the development and progression of glaucoma. 

Foods high in saturated fats (e.g. pastries, fatty meat, sweets) sugars (e.g. sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets) and processed ingredients may contribute to inflammation and oxidative stress in the body potentially worsening glaucoma symptoms. 

Oxidative stress is an imbalance of production of free radicals and the ability of the body to detoxify their harmful effects through neutralisation by antioxidants. While a healthy diet will not cure the condition, it can help manage it more effectively. 

Research suggests that certain nutrients play a vital role in maintaining eye health and may influence the development and progression of glaucoma.

Dietary tips with glaucoma

Green leafy vegetables: The advantages of consuming green leafy vegetables go beyond just maintaining overall health and extend into the realm of eye care. 

Vegetables like lettuce, kontomire, ayoyo, aleefu and cabbage are packed with nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are known to play a role in preventing glaucoma. Making these nutrient-rich vegetables a part of one's daily meals can help strengthen the eyes against potential eye diseases.

Omega-3 fatty acids for eye nourishment: Fish, such as mackerel (saman), tuna, and herring, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for preventing or reducing pain in the eye and the entire body in general. These healthy fats help maintain optimal eye health. If you are allergic to fish or a vegan, you can still obtain omega-3s from nuts and seeds like groundnuts, cashew nuts, chia seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseeds and plant oils such as soybean oil and canola oil, and  avocado. 

Vitamins C and E colourful fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables with vibrant colours indicate the presence of essential nutrients that are good for maintaining healthy eyesight. Include a variety of colourful foods like oranges, carrots, bell peppers, pineapple, watermelon, guava, tomatoes, dark leafy vegetables, and avocado in your diet to get a range of vitamins and antioxidants. 

Moderating caffeine intake: For many people, having a cup of coffee in the morning is an usual routine. However, excessive consumption of caffeine is linked to an increased risk of glaucoma. This is because caffeine can cause a temporary rise in eye pressure, which can be harmful for people who are already at risk of having the condition. To reduce your risk, it is recommended that you limit your caffeine intake to no more than four teacups per day or switch to decaffeinated beverages.

Maintaining a healthy weight: Research has shown that obesity is a risk factor for glaucoma. A balanced and nutritious diet can manage weight, reduce the risk of glaucoma, and promote overall well-being. 

Mindful of sodium intake: Excessive salt intake can lead to high blood pressure which is a risk factor for glaucoma. Avoid or limit intake of processed foods and bouillon cubes, and use natural spices like ginger, black pepper, garlic, and onion to season your meals. 

Stay hydrated: Stay hydrated for good eye health. Proper hydration helps your eyes function optimally. Drink at least four sachets or eight glasses of water every day. 

Beyond the plate: additional tips for eye care: Aside from making healthy food choices, other lifestyle factors can help manage glaucoma and support eye health. These include exercising, regular eye check-ups and stress management.

Conclusion

A healthy diet is essential to protect eyesight, especially for individuals with a family history of glaucoma. 

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The Ghana Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (2023) are a good reference for a healthy diet which can also help with the prevention and management of glaucoma. 

Consult healthcare professionals and eye care specialists for advice and a Registered Dietician in any health facility for more information on healthy eating. 

The writers are with the Department of Dietetics, School of Biomedical & Allied Health Sciences, College of Health Sciences, 
University of Ghana.

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