Reversing Diabetic Blindness with Diet

Reversing Diabetic Blindness with Diet.jpeg

Though many reported feeling better on Dr. Walter Kempner's rice and fruit diet, he refused to accept such anecdotal evidence as proof of success. He wanted objective measurements. The most famous were his "eyegrounds photographs," taken with a special camera that allowed one to visualize the back of the eye. In doing so, he proved diet can arrest the bleeding, oozing, and swelling you see in the back of the eye in people with severe kidney, hypertensive, or heart disease. Even more than that, he proved that diet could actually reverse it, something never thought possible.

In my video, Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Reversed?, you can see before and after images of the back of patients' eyes. He found reversal to such a degree that even those who could no longer distinguish large objects were able to once again read fine print. Dr. Kempner had shown a reversal of blindness with diet.

The results were so dramatic that the head of the department of ophthalmology at Duke, where Kempner worked, was questioned as to whether they were somehow faked. He assured them they were not. In fact, he wrote in one person's chart, "This patient's eyegrounds are improved to an unbelievable degree." Not only had he never seen anything like it, he couldn't remember ever seeing a patient with such advanced disease even being alive 15 months later.

The magnitude of the improvements Kempner got--reversal of end-stage heart and kidney failure--was surprising, simply beyond belief. But as Kempner said as his closing sentence of a presentation before the American College of Physicians, "The important result is not that the change in the course of the disease has been achieved by the rice diet but that the course of the disease can be changed."

Now that we have high blood pressure drugs, we see less hypertensive retinopathy, but we still see a lot of diabetic retinopathy, now the leading cause of blindness in American adults. Even with intensive diabetes treatment--at least three insulin injections a day with the best modern technology has to offer--the best we can offer is usually just a slowing of the progression of the disease.

So, in the 21st century, we slow down your blindness. Yet a half century ago, Kempner proved we could reverse it. Kempner started out using his plant-based rice diet ultra-low in sodium, fat, cholesterol, and protein to reverse kidney and heart failure; he actually assumed the diet would make diabetes worse. He expected a 90% carbohydrate diet would increase insulin requirements, however, the opposite proved to be true. He took the next 100 patients with diabetes who walked through his door who went on the rice diet for at least three months and found their fasting blood sugars dropped despite a drop in the insulin they were taking. What really blew people away was this: Forty-four of the patients had diabetic retinopathy, and, in 30% of the cases, their eyes improved. That's not supposed to happen; diabetic retinopathy had been considered "a sign of irreversible destruction." What does this change mean in real life? Patients went from unable to even read headlines to normal vision.

The remarkable success Dr. Kempner had reversing some of the most dreaded complications of diabetes with his rice and fruit diet was not because of weight loss. The improvements occurred even in those patients who did not lose significant weight, so it must have been something specific about the diet. Maybe it was his total elimination of animal protein, animal fat, and cholesterol? Or perhaps it was his radical reduction in sodium, fat, and protein in general? We don't know.

How do we treat diabetic retinopathy these days? With steroids and other drugs injected straight into the eyeball. If that doesn't work, there's always pan-retinal laser photocoagulation, in which laser burns are etched over nearly the entire retina. Surgeons literally burn out the back of your eye. Why would they do that? The theory is that by killing off most of the retina, the little pieces you leave behind may get more blood flow.

When I see that, along with Kempner's work, I can't help but feel like history has been reversed. It seems as though it should have gone like, "Can you believe 50 years ago the best we had was this barbaric, burn-out-your-socket surgery? Thank goodness we've since learned that through dietary means alone, we can reverse the blindness." But instead of learning, medicine seems to have forgotten.

I documented the extraordinary Kempner story previously in Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape and Drugs and the Demise of the Rice Diet. The reason I keep coming back to this is not to suggest people should go on such a diet (it is too extreme and potentially dangerous to do without strict medical supervision), but to show the power of dietary change to yield tremendous healing effects.

The best way to prevent diabetic blindness is to prevent or reverse diabetes in the first place. See, for example:

Why wouldn't a diet of white rice make diabetes worse? See If White Rice Is Linked to Diabetes, What About China?

For more on the nitty gritty on what is the actual cause of type 2 diabetes, see:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Community Eye Health / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Reversing Diabetic Blindness with Diet

Reversing Diabetic Blindness with Diet.jpeg

Though many reported feeling better on Dr. Walter Kempner's rice and fruit diet, he refused to accept such anecdotal evidence as proof of success. He wanted objective measurements. The most famous were his "eyegrounds photographs," taken with a special camera that allowed one to visualize the back of the eye. In doing so, he proved diet can arrest the bleeding, oozing, and swelling you see in the back of the eye in people with severe kidney, hypertensive, or heart disease. Even more than that, he proved that diet could actually reverse it, something never thought possible.

In my video, Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Reversed?, you can see before and after images of the back of patients' eyes. He found reversal to such a degree that even those who could no longer distinguish large objects were able to once again read fine print. Dr. Kempner had shown a reversal of blindness with diet.

The results were so dramatic that the head of the department of ophthalmology at Duke, where Kempner worked, was questioned as to whether they were somehow faked. He assured them they were not. In fact, he wrote in one person's chart, "This patient's eyegrounds are improved to an unbelievable degree." Not only had he never seen anything like it, he couldn't remember ever seeing a patient with such advanced disease even being alive 15 months later.

The magnitude of the improvements Kempner got--reversal of end-stage heart and kidney failure--was surprising, simply beyond belief. But as Kempner said as his closing sentence of a presentation before the American College of Physicians, "The important result is not that the change in the course of the disease has been achieved by the rice diet but that the course of the disease can be changed."

Now that we have high blood pressure drugs, we see less hypertensive retinopathy, but we still see a lot of diabetic retinopathy, now the leading cause of blindness in American adults. Even with intensive diabetes treatment--at least three insulin injections a day with the best modern technology has to offer--the best we can offer is usually just a slowing of the progression of the disease.

So, in the 21st century, we slow down your blindness. Yet a half century ago, Kempner proved we could reverse it. Kempner started out using his plant-based rice diet ultra-low in sodium, fat, cholesterol, and protein to reverse kidney and heart failure; he actually assumed the diet would make diabetes worse. He expected a 90% carbohydrate diet would increase insulin requirements, however, the opposite proved to be true. He took the next 100 patients with diabetes who walked through his door who went on the rice diet for at least three months and found their fasting blood sugars dropped despite a drop in the insulin they were taking. What really blew people away was this: Forty-four of the patients had diabetic retinopathy, and, in 30% of the cases, their eyes improved. That's not supposed to happen; diabetic retinopathy had been considered "a sign of irreversible destruction." What does this change mean in real life? Patients went from unable to even read headlines to normal vision.

The remarkable success Dr. Kempner had reversing some of the most dreaded complications of diabetes with his rice and fruit diet was not because of weight loss. The improvements occurred even in those patients who did not lose significant weight, so it must have been something specific about the diet. Maybe it was his total elimination of animal protein, animal fat, and cholesterol? Or perhaps it was his radical reduction in sodium, fat, and protein in general? We don't know.

How do we treat diabetic retinopathy these days? With steroids and other drugs injected straight into the eyeball. If that doesn't work, there's always pan-retinal laser photocoagulation, in which laser burns are etched over nearly the entire retina. Surgeons literally burn out the back of your eye. Why would they do that? The theory is that by killing off most of the retina, the little pieces you leave behind may get more blood flow.

When I see that, along with Kempner's work, I can't help but feel like history has been reversed. It seems as though it should have gone like, "Can you believe 50 years ago the best we had was this barbaric, burn-out-your-socket surgery? Thank goodness we've since learned that through dietary means alone, we can reverse the blindness." But instead of learning, medicine seems to have forgotten.

I documented the extraordinary Kempner story previously in Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape and Drugs and the Demise of the Rice Diet. The reason I keep coming back to this is not to suggest people should go on such a diet (it is too extreme and potentially dangerous to do without strict medical supervision), but to show the power of dietary change to yield tremendous healing effects.

The best way to prevent diabetic blindness is to prevent or reverse diabetes in the first place. See, for example:

Why wouldn't a diet of white rice make diabetes worse? See If White Rice Is Linked to Diabetes, What About China?

For more on the nitty gritty on what is the actual cause of type 2 diabetes, see:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Community Eye Health / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Introducing the Kempner Rice Diet

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought us through the Great Depression and World War II. Who knows how history would have been different had he not died in his fourth term as President from a massive stroke. In the following days and months, we learned that Roosevelt had suffered from severe high blood pressure for years. In spite of this, he was on no medications or other treatments. The reason for the lack of treatment is stark and simple: there were none. The state of the art at that time was death. Death, from so-called malignant hypertension--out-of-control high blood pressure--for which, it was thought, there was no remedy. But they were wrong. There was Dr. Walter Kempner and his rice-fruit diet.

A physician-scientist, Kempner trained with the best, fled Nazi Germany and set up shop at Duke, where he began treating malignant hypertension patients with a radical diet consisting of only white rice and fruit, with strikingly favorable results: a rapid reduction in blood pressure, rapid improvement in kidney failure, eye pressure, heart failure and other manifestations of this previously fatal illness.

He figured that if a low salt diet helped with blood pressure, a low protein diet helped with kidney function, and a low fat and cholesterol diet helped the heart, why not take it to its logical conclusion and design a no-salt, no cholesterol diet of almost pure carbohydrate. So, he designed a diet with less sodium than any low-sodium diet, less protein than any low-protein diet, and less cholesterol and fat than any other low-fat diet.

His hope was that it would just stop progression of the disease. Instead, something miraculous happened. In about two-thirds of cases, the disease reversed. There were reversals of heart failure, reversals of eye damage, and reversals of kidney failure. At the time, this was effectively a terminal disease where people just had a few months to live, but with Kempner's rice diet, they got better. In my video Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape, you can see before and after pictures of the back of people's eyes. They started out swollen, bloody and leaking and then were nearly normal in a matter of months.

After being effectively cured by the diet over many months, many patients could then relax the diet to a more conventional plant-based diet and go on to live a normal, active life. The rice diet may actually drop blood pressures too low, so we have to add back other foods to bring the pressures back up to normal.

An editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine described Kempner's results as "little short of miraculous." Practically speaking, there's probably no more effective diet for obese cardiac patients. The problem, though, is that most physicians lack the extraordinary persuasive powers required to keep the patient eating such a restricted diet.

When Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn presented his study results demonstrating in some cases reversal of near end-stage heart disease with a whole food plant-based diet, the Chair of Cleveland Clinic cardiology department asked, "How can we expect patients to stay on a strict diet like this when we can't even get them to quit smoking?" Just like penicillin drugs don't work at all unless we take them, plant-based diets don't work unless we actually eat them.

The answer may be that the physician must have a zealous belief in the diet and must convey that passion to the patients. For Kempner, to keep his patients on the rice diet, he "brow-beat, yelled at, and castigated them when he caught them straying." And he didn't just browbeat them; he sometimes actually beat them. It came out in a lawsuit in which a former patient sued Dr. Kempner, claiming that he had literally whipped her and other patients to motivate them to stick to the diet.

Reminds me of the famous diabetes physician back in the 1800s, Arnoldo Cantani, who knew the remedy for diabetes was not in the drugstore, but rather the kitchen. To ensure compliance, if necessary, he would lock a patient up in a room for six weeks.

Thankfully, in terms of personality, Dr. Esselstyn is the opposite of Dr. Kempner. He is polite, soft-spoken, gentle and able to keep his patients on track without whipping them. And last but not least, Esselstyn walks the talk, following the diet himself, whereas Kempner died of a heart attack (though at the age of 94). Kempner's work continues on in Durham, where they continue a relaxed version of the diet, allowing actual vegetables.

A year before Roosevelt died, Kempner had already published his miraculous results. It seems highly likely that had the rice diet been "provided to President Roosevelt a year before his death, his disease might have been controlled before his fatal stroke, and that this fatal event could have been averted."


For those unfamiliar with Dr. Esselstyn's work, check out:

Kempner was a lifestyle medicine pioneer. What's lifestyle medicine? See, for example:

For more on Kempner's work, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations--2013: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, 2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.

Original Link

Drugs vs. Lifestyle for Preventing Diabetes

NF-Mar8 How to Prevent Prediabetes from turning into Diabetes.jpeg

In just one decade, the number of people with diabetes has more than doubled. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, by 2050, one out of every three of us may have diabetes.

What's the big deal?

Well, the "consequences of diabetes are legion." Diabetes is the number one cause of adult-onset blindness, the number one cause of kidney failure, and the number one cause of surgical amputations.

What can we do to prevent it?

The onset of Type 2 diabetes is gradual, with most individuals progressing through a state of prediabetes, a condition now striking approximately one in three Americans, but only about one in ten even knows they have it. Since current methods of treating diabetes remain inadequate, prevention is preferable, but what works better: lifestyle changes or drugs? We didn't know until a landmark study, highlighted in my video, How to Prevent Prediabetes from Turning into Diabetes, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Thousands were randomized to get a double dose of the leading anti-diabetes drug, or diet and exercise. The drug, metformin, is probably the safest diabetes drug there is. It causes diarrhea in about half, makes one in four nauseous, about one in ten suffer from asthenia (physical weakness and fatigue), but only about 1 in 67,000 are killed by the drug every year.

And the drug worked. Compared to placebo, in terms of the percentage of people developing diabetes within the four-year study period, fewer people in the drug group developed diabetes.

But diet and exercise alone worked better. The lifestyle intervention reduced diabetes incidence by 58 percent, compared to only 31 percent with the drug. The lifestyle intervention was significantly more effective than the drug, and had fewer side-effects. More than three quarters of those on the drug reported gastrointestinal symptoms, though there was more muscle soreness reported in the lifestyle group, on account of them actually exercising.

That's what other studies have subsequently found: non-drug approaches superior to drug-based approaches for diabetes prevention. And the average 50 percent or so drop in risk was just for those instructing people to improve their diet and lifestyle, whether or not they actually did it.

In one of the most famous diabetes prevention studies, 500 people with prediabetes were randomized into a lifestyle intervention or control group. During the trial, the risk of diabetes was reduced by that same 50-60 percent, but only a fraction of the patients met the modest goals. Even in the lifestyle intervention group, only about a quarter were able to eat enough fiber, meaning whole, plant foods, and cut down on enough saturated fat, which in North America is mostly dairy, dessert, chicken and pork. But they did better than the control group, and fewer of them developed diabetes because of it. But what if you looked just at the folks that actually made the lifestyle changes? They had zero diabetes--none of them got diabetes. That's effectively a 100 percent drop in risk.

I often hear the diet and exercise intervention described as 60 percent effective. That's still nearly twice as effective as the drug, but what the other study really showed it may be more like 100 percent in people who actually do it. So is diet and exercise 100 percent effective or only 60 percent effective? On a population scale, since so many people won't actually do it, it may only be 60 percent effective. But on an individual level, if you want to know what are the chances you won't get diabetes if you change your lifestyle, then the 100 percent answer is more accurate. Lifestyle interventions only work when we do them. Kale is only healthy if it actually gets into our mouth. It's not healthy just sitting on the shelf.


How about preventing prediabetes in the first place? See Preventing Prediabetes By Eating More and my video How to Prevent Prediabetes in Children.

Some things we may want to avoid can be found in my videos Eggs and Diabetes and Fish and Diabetes.

And what if we already have the disease? See Diabetics Should Take Their Pulses and my live presentation From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Diet.

What if you don't have time for exercise? Check out Standing Up for Your Health.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Heather Aitken / Flickr

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How to Prevent Childhood Obesity and Diabetes

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Thirty years ago, virtually all diabetes in young individuals was thought to be autoimmune Type 1 diabetes, but since the mid-90s, we started to see an increase in Type 2 diabetes among youth, particularly in the United States. Indeed, "the term adult onset diabetes has now been scrapped and replaced with 'Type 2' because children as young as eight are now developing the disease." And the effects can be just as devastating. A 15-year follow-up of children diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes found an alarming rate in young adults of blindness, amputation, kidney failure and death in young adulthood.

Why the dramatic rise in childhood diabetes? The dramatic rise in childhood diabetes is due to the dramatic rise in childhood obesity. During the past 30 years, the number of children diagnosed as being overweight has increased by more than 100 percent. Once an obese child reaches age six, it's likely they'll stay that way. And even if they don't, being overweight in our youth predicts adult disease and death regardless of adult body weight.

Being an overweight teen may predict disease risk 55 years later, including twice the risk of dying from heart attack, more cancer, gout, and arthritis. In fact being overweight as a teen "was a more powerful predictor of these risks then being overweight in adulthood." This underscores the importance of focusing on preventing childhood obesity.

How do we do it? From the official American Academy of Pediatrics clinical practice guidelines: the problem appears to be kids eating too much fat and added sugar, and not eating enough fruits and vegetables.

Doctors, at every occasion beginning soon after a child's birth, should endeavor to give sound advice regarding nutrition and growth so that obesity and its complications may be curtailed. What might sound advice sound like?

The chair of the nutrition department at Loma Linda published a review suggesting not eating meat at all might be an effective strategy. Population studies have consistently shown that vegetarians are thinner than comparable non-vegetarians.

In the largest such study to date (highlighted in my video How to Prevent Prediabetes in Children), a body mass index over 30 is considered obese, 25 to 30 overweight, and under 25 an ideal weight. The non-vegetarians were up at 28.8, showing the average meat-eater in the U.S. is significantly overweight. As one gets more and more plant-based, the average BMI drops. But even the average vegetarian in the U.S. is overweight. The only dietary group that was, on average, ideal weight were those eating strictly plant-based. It comes out to be about a 30-pound difference between average vegans and meat-eaters.

In school-aged children, the consumption of animal foods (meats, dairy, or eggs) is associated with an increased risk of being overweight, whereas plant-based equivalents like veggie burgers, veggie dogs, and veggie cold cuts were not. The whole plant foods like grains, beans, and nuts were found to be protective.

This may be because plant-based diets are low in energy density and high in starch, fiber, and water, which may increase feelings of fullness and resting energy expenditure, meaning resting metabolic rate. Eating plant-based appears to boost metabolism, such that you just burn more calories at rest. However, we're not sure how much of the benefits are due to increased consumption of plant foods versus decreased consumption of meat.

"Plant-based diets should be encouraged and promoted for optimal health. Local, national and international food policies are warranted to support social marketing messages and to reduce the social, cultural, economic and political forces that make it difficult to promote such diets." For example, although the advice to consume a plant-based diet is sound, questions arise concerning the relatively high price of produce.

We could reduce the burden of childhood obesity and prevent further spread of the disease, but we need to ensure that plant foods are affordable and accessible to children of all income levels. Getting diabetes in childhood cuts about 20 years of their life. What parent wouldn't go to the ends of the Earth to add decades to their children's lives? Fruits and vegetables may not fit on the Dollar Menu, but our kids are worth it.

We make life and death decisions at the grocery store buying food for our family. It's never too early to start our kids off on the right foot. See my video Heart Disease Starts in Childhood.

And healthy doesn't have to mean more expensive. Check out Eating Healthy on a Budget.

For some tips on getting our kids to eat their vegetables, see my videos Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at School and Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at Home.

Once one has prediabetes, there's a way to prevent it from progressing further. See my video How to Prevent Prediabetes from Turning into Diabetes.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: DAVID Swift / Flickr

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Dr. Greger’s 2015 Live Year-in-Review Presentation

Food as Medicine

View my new live presentation here: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet

Every year I scour the world's scholarly literature on clinical nutrition, pulling together what I find to be the most interesting, practical, and groundbreaking science on how to best feed ourselves and our families. I start with the thousands of papers published annually on nutrition (27,000 this year--a new record!) and, thanks to a crack team of volunteers (and now staff!), I'm able to whittle those down (to a mere 8,000 this year). They are then downloaded, categorized, read, analyzed, and churned into the few hundred short videos. This allows me to post new videos and articles every day, year-round, to NutritionFacts.org. This certainly makes the site unique. There's no other science-based source for free daily updates on the latest discoveries in nutrition. The problem is that the amount of information can be overwhelming.

Currently I have more than a thousand videos covering 1,931 nutrition topics. Where do you even begin? Many have expressed their appreciation for the breadth of material, but asked that I try to distill it into a coherent summary of how best to use diet to prevent and treat chronic disease. I took this feedback to heart and in 2012 developed Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, which explored the role diet may play in preventing, arresting, and even reversing our top 15 killers. Not only did it rise to become one of the Top 10 Most Popular Videos of 2012, it remains my single most viewed video to date, watched over a million times (NutritionFacts.org is now up to more than 1.5 million hits a month!).

In 2013 I developed the sequel, More Than an Apple a Day, in which I explored the role diet could play in treating some of our most common conditions. I presented it around the country and it ended up #1 on our Top 10 Most Popular Videos of 2013. Then in 2014 I premiered the sequel-sequel, From Table to Able, in which I explored the role diet could play in treating some of our most disabling diseases, landing #1 on our Top 10 Most Popular Videos of 2014.

Every year I wonder how I'm going to top the year before. Knowing how popular these live presentations can be and hearing all the stories from folks about what a powerful impact they can have on people's lives, I put my all into this new 2015 one. I spent more time putting together this presentation than any other in my life. It took me an entire month, and when you see it I think you'll appreciate why.

This year, I'm honored to bring you Food as Medicine, in which I go through our most dreaded diseases--but that's not even the best part! I'm really proud of what I put together for the ending. I spend the last 20 minutes or so (starting at 56:22) going through a thought experiment that I'm hoping everyone will find compelling. I think it may be my best presentation ever. You be the judge.

You can watch it at no cost online, but it is also available on DVD through my website or on Amazon. If you want to share copies with others, I have a five for $40 special (enter coupon code 5FOR40FAM). All proceeds from the sales of all my books, DVDs, downloads, and presentations go to the 501c3 nonprofit charity that keeps NutritionFacts.org free for all, for all time. If you want to support this initiative to educate millions about eradicating dietary diseases, please consider making a donation.

After you've watched the new presentation, make sure you're subscribed to get my video updates daily, weekly, or monthly to stay on top of all the latest.

-Michael Greger

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Foods for Computer Eye Strain

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What happens to our eyesight when we sit in front of a computer all day?

As researchers from the SUNY College of Optometry note, the rise in computer screens "has led to an increase in ocular and visual problems, including eye discomfort, blurring of distant objects, eye strain, and asthenopia (visual fatigue)." This has caused so-called "nearwork-induced transient myopia." That's when after staring at a computer screen for a while we look out the window and things start out all blurry. Our vision becomes blurred because our poor little ciliary muscles pulling at our lens are locked in this constant state of contraction to keep that near focus. Over time, this may have long-term adverse consequences.

How to Combat Computer Eye Strain

Experts in the field recommend taking 4-12 minute breaks staring out the window every hour.

We can also aid our vision with our diet. A double-blind placebo-controlled crossover study, for example, found a significant improvement in refractive values and eyestrain symptoms when subjects ate black currants compared to a placebo.

However, what passes for currants in the U.S. are usually champagne grape raisins, not actual black currants, which were banned in the U.S. a century ago at the behest of the lumber industry. The lumber industry feared that they might spread a plant disease that affects white pine (which we hardly even harvest any more). Black currants are, however, currently making a comeback (and the ban has been lifted in some states), though any anthocyanin-rich berry might have similar benefits (such as bilberries, blueberries, cranberries, black raspberries and red raspberries).

Foods vs. Supplements

Why bother with whole bilberries or black currants when we could just take powder capsules? Because, as we've seen over and over again, when we test supplements, we're lucky if they actually contain what is listed on the label. Furthermore, even for products containing bilberries, one study found that labeling was often uninformative, misleading, or both, something or which the herbal supplement market is infamous. The largest study to date found that it appears most herbal supplement labels lie.

A Brief History of Bilberries

Bilberries gained notoriety during World War II when it was said that pilots in the British Royal Air Force "were eating bilberry jam to improve their night vision." It turns out this may have been a story concocted to fool the Germans. The real reason the Brits were able to suddenly target Nazi bombers in the middle of the night before the bombers even made it to the English channel was likely not because of bilberries, but because of a top secret new invention the British needed to keep quiet: radar.

For best results when it comes to computer eye strain, stick to whole berries with blue and red pigments, and don't forget to give your eyes a break each hour.

For other videos on protecting our vision, check out Greens vs. Glaucoma, where I listed the best foods to help prevent glaucoma; in Dietary Prevention of Age-Related Macular Degeneration I did the same for age-related macular degeneration. I've also addressed the Dietary Treatment of Glaucoma.

By using a standing or treadmill desk, we can avoid some of the other adverse health effects of sitting at a computer all day. See my video Standing Up for Your Health. I'm now up to 17 miles a day!

-Michael Greger, M.D

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: GBloniarz / Flickr

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Currant Treatment for Glaucoma

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In my video, Dietary Prevention for Age-Related Macular Degeneration, I discussed how eating goji berries with nuts and seeds can help build up yellow plant pigments such as lutein and zeaxanthin in our eyes to help fight age-related macular degeneration.

But once we've preserved the pigment in our retinal pigment epithelial cells, we need to keep them alive. This may be where anthocyanin phytonutrients come in. Anthocyanins (from the Greek anthos, meaning flower, and kyanos, meaning blue) are natural plant pigments that make pansies look purple and turn green cabbage into purple cabbage, yellow corn into purple corn, brown rice to purple rice, white potatoes to blue potatoes, orange carrots to purple carrots, and keeps blueberries blue and blackberries black.

As we age, our critical retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) layer starts to break down. However, we may be able to decelerate that aging with blueberries. In the study I profile in my video, Dietary Treatment of Glaucoma, human RPE cells bathed in blueberry anthocyanins had fewer free radicals and a lower proportion of aged cells, suggesting that blueberries and other red, blue, and purple pigmented fruits and vegetables may help prevent age-related macular degeneration. Blueberries may be especially important for blue eyes, as can be seen in my video Greens vs. Glaucoma.

Preventing disease is nice, but what if we already have a disease like glaucoma, an incurable eye disease in which our optic nerve (which connects our eyes to our brain) starts deteriorating, and we start losing our visual fields?

A few years ago, Japanese researchers showed they could apparently halt the progression of glaucoma with black currants. They gave people black currants for six months and found that black currants significantly boosted the blood flow to their optic nerve. The results suggest that black currants might be a safe and valuable option, but because the study was not double-blind and there was no control group, I didn't report on it when it was initially published. But now we've got just such a study. Glaucoma patients were split into two groups--half got black currants; the other half didn't.

The study measured the deterioration of the patients' visual fields in both groups in the two years leading up to the study. Despite taking the best glaucoma drugs on the market, the subjects' visual fields deteriorated. Then the study starts. The berry-free control group continued to worsen, but the berries appeared to stop the disease in its tracks after both one and two years. And since there's no downside to berries (only good side-effects), in my professional opinion everyone with glaucoma should be eating berries every day.

For more on the latest science on preventing and treating vision loss, check out Greens vs. Glaucoma, where I detailed the best foods to help prevent glaucoma. My previous treatment of glaucoma can be found here: Prevent Glaucoma and See 27 Miles Farther.

I've mentioned anthocyanins before in:

They may be why purple potatoes (Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Purple Potatoes) and purple cabbage (Superfood Bargains) may be preferable. Anthocyanins are the pigments in red and purple cabbage that allow for the kitchen chemistry in Testing Your Diet with Pee & Purple Cabbage.

More on currants in Enhanced Athletic Recovery Without Undermining Adaptation.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Rachel / Flickr

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Foods for Macular Degeneration

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Anyone who has gotten a bad sunburn knows how damaging the UV rays in sunlight can be. Imagine what those same rays are doing to back of our eyeballs (our retinas). The eye is designed to take sunlight and focus it like a magnifying glass into the back of our eyes. Thankfully, we have a layer of cells called the retinal pigment epithelium that supports and protects our delicate retinal eyesight machinery. The layer builds up yellow plant pigments like zeaxanthin from our diet, absorbing blue light and protecting the retina from photo-oxidative damage. The yellowing of our corneas when we develop cataracts may actually be our bodies' defense mechanism to protect our retinas. In fact, when cataracts are removed, the risk of blindness from macular generation shoots up (because we removed the protection). Instead of trading one type of vision loss for another, it's better to pigment the back of our eyes through diet instead of pigmenting the front of our eyes with cataracts. The pigment in the back of our eyes is entirely of dietary origin, "suggesting that the most common cause of blind registration in the Western World could be delayed, or even averted, with appropriate dietary modification," according to authors of a study on age-related macular degeneration.

Where in our diet do we get these pigments? The egg industry brags that eggs are a good source, but have nearly six high-lutein, free-range, certified organic eggs a week for three months and the pigmentation in one's eyes may only marginally increase (see Egg Industry Blind Spot). Instead of getting the phytonutrients from the egg that came from the chicken that came from the corn and blades of grass the chicken pecked on, we could get it from the source. One cup of corn and a half cup of spinach a day for three months seems to dramatically boost the protective eye pigment in subjects. In the video, Dietary Prevention of Age Related Macular Degeneration, you can see a comparison of the amount of these phytonutrients from eggs compared to corn and spinach. If we cut out the middlehen and get these nutrients from plants directly, we see a substantially larger increase in protective eye pigment.

Three months after the subjects stopped eating the corn and spinach, the levels of these pigments remained relatively high, indicating that once we build our macular pigment up with a healthy diet, our eyeballs really try to hold on to it. So even if we go on vacation and end up eating more iceberg lettuce than spinach, our eyes will hold out until we get back.

Eggs can increase zeaxanthin levels in the blood, but they can also raise bad cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Thus, as researchers conclude, "an egg yolk-based dietary strategy to increase plasma zeaxanthin cannot be recommended, and an alternative, cholesterol-free, food source is desirable." One such alternative would be goji berries, which have up to 60 times more zeaxanthin than eggs. A modest dose of goji markedly increases levels in our body. Consumption of goji berries may be an effective, safe whole food strategy to increase zeaxanthin in the bloodstream.

But we don't need it in our blood, we need it in our eyes. A group of researchers performed a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial to test the effectiveness of goji berries at increasing pigment levels. To preserve eyesight in the elderly in traditional Chinese medicine, people are often prescribed 40 to 100 goji berries a day. In this study, participants consumed only about 15 berries a day for three months. Even at this small dose researchers found that goji berries could protect against loss of pigment and prevent the buildup of debris that builds up in the back of the eye. Both loss of pigment and debris buildup are associated with age-related macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of legal blindness in older men and women, affecting more than ten million Americans, so increasing our consumption of these pigments as a society could significantly decrease the prevalence of blindness. In the above study, researchers gave the goji berries in milk so the butterfat could increase the absorption of these carotenoid pigments. A healthier way to get the same effect would just be to eat goji berries with nuts or seeds--in other words, goji trail mix.

Though they didn't appear to boost a measure of immune function (Boosting Natural Killer Cell Activity), goji berries are one of the most antioxidant packed snacks out there. A tip on getting them inexpensively can be found in my video Are Goji Berries Good for You?

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Marufish / Flickr

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Foods for Glaucoma

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Glaucoma is the second leading cause of legal blindness in white women, and the number one cause of blindness in African-American women. In a study I profile in the video Greens vs. Glaucoma, researchers chose a population of African-American women to study the effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on glaucoma risk because they were specifically interested in studying the effect of foods with the highest concentration of those eye-protecting phytonutrients like zeaxanthin. Zeaxanthin is found primarily in plants such as kale and collard greens. (It is also found in eggs--find out how much in Egg Industry Blind Spot). However, we'd be lucky if we could find one in ten white people eating even a single serving of these dark green leafy vegetables a month, whereas nearly nine out of ten African-American women in the study consumed this amount.

What did the researchers find? Well, as I've stressed over the years, all fruits and vegetables are not the same (see for example, How to Reach the Antioxidant "RDA"). Whether the participants hardly ever ate bananas or had one or more every day didn't seem to matter much in terms of the risk of glaucoma. However, eating only a couple oranges every week was associated with dramatically lower risk. Orange juice was not associated with a lower risk, though, even if drunk every day. A similar finding was found for peaches: fresh peaches seemed to help, but canned peaches didn't.

Similarly the intake of vegetables in general as a catch-all term didn't seem to matter. For example, whether subjects ate a green salad twice a week, once a week, or zero times a week didn't seem to matter when it came to reducing glaucoma risk, but most people's salads are pretty pitiful. It was a different story for kale and collard greens: just two or three servings a month was associated with half the risk of glaucoma compared to once a month or less.

It may be especially important for white people to consume kale and collard greens. The lighter our eye color, the more greens we need to eat. Blue eyes let 100 times more light through, so people with blue or gray eyes appear significantly more vulnerable to damage compared to brown or black. Green and hazel fall somewhere in the middle.

This is interesting: carrots appeared to be less protective in black women compared to white women. They suggest it could be a difference in food preparation methods. Perhaps the African-American subjects tended to eat carrots raw, limiting the absorption of certain nutrients, while they chopped and prepared their collard greens with oil, making the nutrients more bioavailable because the absorption of carotenoid phytonutrients depends on the presence of fat. This is why I encourage people to eat nuts or seeds with the greens--such as a little tahini sauce or something.

Why not just take a zeaxanthin pill? We don't know what exactly it is in these wonderful foods that's working their wonders, so it's probably better to just eat our greens rather than supplements. In fact, people that take calcium or iron supplements may even be doubling, quadrupling, or septupling their odds of glaucoma. It's better to get most of our nutrients from produce, not pills.

I wish there were more studies on under-represented populations. I've covered a few, such as Preventing Breast Cancer By Any Greens Necessary, but I am constantly on the lookout for more.

My other videos on glaucoma include Prevent Glaucoma and See 27 Miles Farther and Dietary Treatment of Glaucoma. For more on eye health check out my video, Dietary Prevention of Age-Related Macular Degeneration.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: bruno garciact / Flickr

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