The ability to see is something we usually take for granted until we start having problems. Loss of vision due to cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration becomes more common as we age, but eye problems can develop throughout the life cycle. I've had several eye disorders: bilateral strabismus ("lazy eye") requiring surgery when I was seven, medium myopia (nearsightedness) since around that age, and most recently presbyopia ("old eyes" -- farsightedness after the age of 40). I also have a strong family history of glaucoma, so doing whatever i can to preserve the sight I have is extremely important to me.
Dr. Bruce Fife is a naturopath, certified nutritionist, and director of the Coconut Research Center. He's a prolific author, having written 20 books based on his extensive review of the literature on the benefits of coconut oil and its medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). In his latest book, Stop Vision Loss Now!, he provides evidence that a well-balanced, nutrient-rich, very-low-carbohydrate diet supplemented with coconut oil may help to prevent and even reverse some of the most common eye disorders associated with aging.
The major concept of the book is that the eyes are an extension of the brain, so whatever keeps the brain healthy and well nourished will do the same for the eyes. There's a growing body of research demonstrating that maintaining blood glucose and insulin levels as close to normal as possible can help preserve brain function and reduce the risk for Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. According to Dr. Fife, many researchers now believe that although increased intraocular pressure is involved in glaucoma, its primary cause is that nerve cells within the brain become damaged, similar to what happens in Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. He explains that coconut oil increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a gene that stimulates the growth, maintenance, and repair of these nerve cells.. Dr. Fife suggests that the increase in ketone levels that occurs in response to MCT can protect eye health and improve or potentially reverse degenerative eye disorders as a result of increased BDNF. In addition to age-related conditions like glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy, coconut oil can also be used for dry eyes, eye infections, and other non-vision-limiting conditions.*
In addition to generous amounts of healthy fats and moderate amounts of protein, Dr. Fife recommends including a wide variety of nonstarchy vegetables and berries to reduce oxidative stress that can lead to eye disease. He advises selecting from three different levels of carbohydrate intake based on blood glucose levels and provides a sample menu for a typical day, along with guidance on meal planning and dining out. Lists of protective low-carbohydrate foods and a comprehensive net carb counter are included. I agree with his suggestion to add coconut oil slowly, one tablespoon per day to start, in order to prevent GI symptoms and determine personal tolerance.
I learned several things I didn't know as a result of reading this book, including:
- Adding coconut oil to vegetables improves absorption of their nutrients more than any other fat and does the best job of preserving the antioxidants they contain
- Aerobic exercise is the most beneficial type of activity for increasing BDNF in the retina
- Topical application of coconut water may improve cataracts
I found Stop Vision Loss Now! very well-researched, comprehensive, and interesting. Dr. Fife has a gift for making advanced nutrition concepts and physiological processes easy for the average reader with an interest in health to understand. It was truly a pleasure read for me. There are many personal accounts throughout the book, including the author's story of how he reversed his own early-stage glaucoma. Although there isn't a lot of published research on the benefits of coconut oil for eye disorders, he makes a great case for including it as part of a whole-foods-based, low-carbohydrate diet in Stop Vision Loss Now!
*Regardless of whether these changes in diet and lifestyle improve your vision, if you have an eye disorder, you should continue to see your ophthalmologist at least once a year for monitoring.