Alternative Glaucoma Treatments
Alternative Therapies to Treat Glaucoma can Assist Established Treatment Protocols
Alternative therapy is a treatment other than a conventional medical or surgical treatment that is used in mainstream health care. This information focuses on alternative treatment for primary open angle glaucoma (POAG).
Glaucoma is a complex disease with many causes and factors happening at any given moment. Despite the complexity, currently the only risk factor that we can really change is intraocular pressure (the fluid pressure inside the eye). Current research continues on finding treatment for other causes of optic nerve damage such as neuroprotection of the optic nerve, oxidative damage and unregulated blood flow at the optic nerve head. Hopefully some of these can be changed or improved and many believe during the next decade several new treatments will be made available to alter other factors besides intraocular pressure (IOP).
The current approach of conventional medicine is to use medical eye drops to lower the intraocular pressure (IOP). There are many effective medical eye drops that can lower IOP although all of them have side effects, require time and effort to instill into the eye and many are expensive. Additionally, the effect of some of the drops can decrease over time requiring the use of even more medicine.
ALTERNATIVE METHODS TO LOWER INTRAOCULAR PRESSURE
Marijuana Lowers Intraocular Pressure but not Effectively
The most well known alternative method of lowering IOP is via marijuana, specifically THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Because of the many side effects of marijuana and its potential abuse it has extremely limited use for lowering IOP. Based on studies in the 1970's marijuana lowers IOP by small amounts but the effect only lasted for 3-4 hours. Because it is important to maintain pressure throughout all 24 hours of every day it makes the regular use of marijuana to treat glaucoma not feasible. Another problem is that marijuana can lower blood pressure, thereby reducing blood flow to the optic nerve and potentially causing structural damage to the optic nerve.
Marijuana will lower IOP by about 20% in about 60% of people but the complications of short duration and excessive undesirable side effects make it essentially worthless for the treatment of glaucoma.
BETTER POTENTIAL ALTERNATIVE METHODS TO LOWER IOP
Studies have shown an increase in IOP when a person is in the supine position (lying down) vs. standing or seated upright. IOP fluctuates throughout each day and tends to be the highest at night while sleeping. Having a person sleep with their head at a 30 degree incline has shown a reduction in IOP of up to 20% in some patients. This no cost, risk-free method to lower IOP is certainly worth considering at this point.
Melatonin Lowers Intraocular Pressure
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain by the pineal gland from the amino acid tryptophan. Melatonin synthesis and release is stimulated by darkness and suppressed by light. The concentration of melatonin is highest prior to bedtime. Side effects of melatonin supplements include headaches, confusion, daytime sleepiness, sleepwalking, nightmares and dizziness. There are also reports of melatonin causing increased cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.
Melatonin may interact with various medications, including blood-thinning medications (anticoagulants), immunosuppressants, diabetes medications and birth control pills. Melatonin should be avoided or used with caution and under a doctor's supervision for anyone using these medicines. Taking melatonin for longer than two months may be harmful. The best dose of melatonin isn't certain. If you take melatonin be careful during daytime activities, such as driving or operating heavy machinery. Talk to your doctor before taking melatonin, especially if you have any other health conditions. Melatonin from animals can contain viruses or other contaminants so all melatonin supplements should be manufactured with artificial ingredients.
In animal studies topical melatonin has shown significant IOP reductions (19-28%), which is equivalent to most current prescription glaucoma medicines. Melatonin also has antioxidant activity so it may offer some protection of the optic nerve also. Further research is needed but melatonin may prove to be an effective therapy to lower IOP.
Systemic absorption of topical melationin has not been completely studied. Although side effects would be reduced using topical melatonin (i.e. eye drops), caution should be exercised even using topical eye drops of melatonin.
Although many acupuncturists believe they can treat glaucoma with acupuncture there are no definitive studies proving its efficacy in humans. One small study on animals did show that acupuncture helped maintain retinal function in the animals that had first undergone destructive techniques to create glaucoma.
There is also no evidence that any problems will result from using acupuncture to attempt to treat glaucoma. However, there is some anecdotal evidence that acupuncture may actually increase the intraocular pressure - be careful! If you choose acupuncture or any alternative treatment, be sure to inform your glaucoma specialist.
Reduce Oxidative Stress to Treat Glaucoma Using Alternative Treatments
Living cells use/metabolize oxygen, which creates "free radicals". If there are not enough antioxidants to counterbalance the free radicals then oxidative stress occurs. Oxidative stress is thought to be a cause of cell damage in many diseases including glaucoma.
Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids provide many benefits for many systems in the human body and the maintenance of vascular health is one benefit that clearly benefits the health of the optic nerve where glaucoma damage occurs.
To combat the free radicals from oxidative stress antioxidants have been suggested. Primary sources include polyphenol compounds including resveratrol. Others antioxidants are coenzyme Q10, turmeric, dark chocolate, green tea and ginkgo biloba.
Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is the primary antioxidant found in green tea. It may help in not only cardiovascular disease and age related macular degeneration but also in glaucoma. It has been shown to be beneficial in protecting ganglion cells following injury. It also has anti-inflammatory and antiangiogenic properties. It would be prudent to drink decaffeinated green tea to avoid the caffeine related side effects which could actually counter the helpful effects of green tea since caffeine can possibly increase intraocular pressure.
None of the alternative therapies for glaucoma have proven to be effective enough to circumvent conventional medical treatments so they should be used with guidance from your glaucoma specialist and in conjunction with other appropriate proven treatments.