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Fascinating findings are coming from the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai. They have published in a recent issue of Eye-Nature that a long-term diet low in carbohydrates and rich in plant-based fats and proteins may lower the risk of glaucoma.

In fact, the researchers say that a diet higher in plant-based fat and low in carbs may lower the glaucoma subtype risk by 20%. More specifically, they found that the plant-based diet can cut the risk of developing primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), or a common subtype of glaucoma, with early paracentral visual loss.

Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness due to damage to the optic nerve from abnormally high pressure in the eye. The optic nerve’s job is to transfer visual information from the retina to the vision centers of the brain via electrical impulses. It has a high concentration of mitochondria, which supplies vitality to the cell. Healthy optic nerves make for quality vision.

The researchers wanted to know if increasing protein and fat in place of carbs, would improve mitochondrial development and optic nerve function. It’s already proven itself in the past to be beneficial in other areas. 

 Dr. Louis R. Pasquale, co-corresponding author and deputy chair for ophthalmology research for the Mount Sinai Health System stated that “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,” adding that, ”It’s important to note that a low-carbohydrate diet won’t stop glaucoma progression if you already have it, but it may be a means to preventing glaucoma in high-risk groups. If more patients in these high-risk categories—including those with a family history of glaucoma—adhered to this diet, there might be fewer cases of vision loss.” 

They followed more than 185,000 participants of three cohorts from 1976 to 2017, who filled out food frequency questionnaires every two to four years, along with health-related questions. They compared carbohydrate intake across animal-based and plant-based fats and proteins and those coming from any source.

They found that vegetable sources for a low-carb diet may be more beneficial than animal sources in lowering the risk of certain glaucoma subtypes. Not surprising.

Pasquale stated that “This was an observational study and not a clinical trial, so more work is needed as this is the first study looking at this dietary pattern in relation to POAG. The next step is to use artificial intelligence to objectively quantify paracentral visual loss in our glaucoma cases and repeat the analysis. It’s also important to identify patients who have a genetic makeup of primary open-angle glaucoma who may benefit from a low-carbohydrate diet. This dietary pattern may be protective only in people with a certain genetic makeup.” 

It will be worth looking into and waiting to see what they conclude. 

Until then, we know one thing is sure: Eat your vegetables. They’re good for you!