August 18 2011

The Modern Assault on Eyesight

By Mark Sisson
105 Comments

We in the Primal community talk a lot about the modern medical situation – the growing prevalence of lifestyle disease and the misguided, costly paths conventional health wisdom too often prescribes. Still, some conditions seem less – well, conditional – than others. Take eyesight, for example. If we wear glasses or contacts, we look to our families or age. While genetics and years certainly have their influence, is that the entire story for everyone? Is vision a wholly “closed” process – set in motion and then untouched by overall health and physiologic interaction, or is it more dynamic and systemic than that?

I get a fair number of emails from folks who wonder about their eye health in a Primal context. A while back I looked at the potential role of sunlight in preventing myopia, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. The post got people thinking. What are the other factors and theories behind the myopia surge? And as for readers’ individual circumstances, were they really destined to wear glasses? Is there anything they can do once they’re already living with a vision prescription? Glasses or no, what can we do to support the well-being of our eyes throughout our lifetimes?

As is customary, let’s revisit the Primal backdrop. In hunter gatherer days, of course, our ancestors depended upon good vision for survival. If you can’t see well enough to decipher the outline of a hungry predator watching you, you’re probably not going to make it very long. Likewise, if your vision doesn’t allow you to participate effectively in either hunting or foraging expeditions, your chances are likewise diminished. Although you might have survived young childhood under the watchful eye of tribal caretakers, you probably wouldn’t have made it long enough to procreate.

That doesn’t mean there was absolutely zero variation. Research a couple years back showed that men tend to have better distance vision and women have better near vision. The researchers related the discrepancy to our respective roles in hunting and gathering. Men, the primary hunters, required the ability to see clearly across a vast field to bag the dinner. Women as primary foragers benefited from strong visual acuity up close as they located and then discerned edible from inedible plants.

Although we can’t submit Grok to the standard eye exam, study of existing traditional societies reveals an unsurprising picture. As Dr. Loren Cordain notes (PDF), research involving modern hunter gatherers reveals near perfect eyesight in studied groups. Among vision impairments that do exist, myopia (nearsightedness) is the most common. Statistics for myopia in these traditional groups settle out at zero to three percent and consist of almost exclusively mild cases.

Fast forward to today’s modern societies, and we find a much different picture. The numbers for myopia, for example, have skyrocketed in the last thirty years across the developed world, and children oddly appear to be the hardest hit. Singapore is often cited as the worst off. As many as 80% of 18-year-old military conscripts exhibit myopia as do 20% of children under seven and 70% of those graduating college (PDF). In Sweden, 50% of 12-year-olds have myopia (PDF).

In the U.S., the prevalence of myopia is 42% in people 12 to 54-years-old and 34% in 12 to 17-years-old. As for other visual impairments, more than 17% of people over the age of forty are diagnosed with cataracts. For age-related macular degeneration, it’s more than 6%. For diabetic retinopathy, there’s another 3.4%. For glaucoma, it’s about 2%. Add it all up, and that’s a whole lot of us voted off Grok’s island.

As much as genetics matter, we’re clearly looking at a whole other animal here. Enter environment. Although you might not hear it often enough, diet for one thing plays a significant role in eye conditions. Cordain among others has emphasized the role of carbs, particularly fast-acting carbs, in the development of myopia, for example. Insulin spikes don’t do your eyes good any more than they do the rest of your body. Insulin influences the release of growth related hormones, which is telling when you remember that myopia stems from unchecked growth that throws off the precise balance of eye structure and development. When it comes to full-blown diabetes, retinal damage caused by diabetes is now the leading cause cited in new blindness cases in American adults. Diabetics are also twice as likely to develop glaucoma, another major cause of blindness in the U.S. Myopia and hypothyroidism, both on the rise, are also known risk factors for glaucoma. Among risk factors for “age-related” macular degeneration are obesity, high blood pressure, low antioxidant diet, and inactivity. This just keeps getting better.

Even if we avoid the major pitfalls and walk away from the optometrist’s office empty handed, what about the everyday eye strain and headaches that many of us experience? Although frequent reading has long been tied to eye problems, our growing array of electronic devices is upping the ante on dysfunction. Studies have found some 64-90% of computer users suffer from a host of pains, including “eye strain, headaches, ocular discomfort, dry eye, diplopia, and blurred vision.” (From a personal standpoint, the back and tops of my eyes feel like they’re being crushed from inside my skull from time to time. So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.) Smart phones seem to be the worst culprits (although electronic readers might not be far behind).

Researchers have identified a couple of reasons behind smart phone eye strain. Because of the tiny screens and smaller fonts used on smart phones, the researchers found people generally hold their smart phones closer to their eyes than they would printed text. Study results showed people held their phones an average of only 12.6 inches away from their eyes while reading website text and 14 inches when looking at a text message. (The average distance for printed text is nearly 16 inches.) The researchers noted that font size on smart phones were an average of 20% smaller than printed text. In some cases, viewed fonts were 70% smaller. (Time for that monocle.) What does this mean for us techno-suckers? Because of the size and distance, our eyes have a harder time focusing on the print. The strain involves two processes called accommodation, the adjustment from near to far distance, and vergence, eye movement toward and away from one another.

Modern lifestyles are especially setting up our children for strain as well as poor eye health. The diminished physical activity level and high screen time of many children’s days have been connected with narrower blood vessels in the eyes, a characteristic of various common eye problems. Research at the University of Sydney associated every additional hour of screen (or otherwise sedentary) time each day with vessel narrowing of 1.53 microns, a measurement reflective of a 10 millimeter (mm HG) rise in systolic blood pressure.

What gives here? Well, a few things. Yes, we live longer than we used to. Research supports genetic correlations with all of the aforementioned eye disorders. However, environmental and lifestyle factors are known risk factors for all of these diseases as well. Sure, our genetics might predispose us to type 2 diabetes or AMD, but our health in both those areas isn’t black and white. When it comes to eye health as in any other aspect of health, our individual health efforts can make an impact. This isn’t to say any given person will be able to achieve perfect vision solely with a healthy lifestyle, but who wouldn’t want to make the most of what they have? We can take steps to preserve our vision, whatever it is at this moment, and stave off future dysfunction.

Our factory setting rests at good vision just as it does good overall health – within the context of our ancestral environments and lifestyle. When we live the life our genes expect, our body is able to work optimally. We increase our chances of vision preservation and decrease our chances of developing serious eye disorders.

Studies show that overall nutrition plays a crucial and evolving role in eye health. Breast feeding, for example, appears to offer some protective benefit against myopia, likely due to the advantages of omega-3 fatty acids. Continuing a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids reduces the risk of developing AMD and can even stem the progression of AMD once it begins. Cutting out carbs, particular refined grain, can also “stall” AMD in its tracks. (It seems we’re looking at dynamic physiological interaction here.)

Antioxidants are likewise essential to eye health. Studies show the B vitamins and vitamin D is also important to the development and progression of AMD. Subjects of one study whose antioxidant intake was high were less likely to develop lens damage and certain kinds of cataracts.

What the body requires of and how the body processes antioxidants for the purpose of eye health appears to change over the course of our lifetime. The carotenoids have long been recognized for their role in maintaining optimum eye health. As we age, they may become even more essential. Lutein and zeaxanthin, researchers believe, help protect the eyes by countering the damage of free radicals and blue light. With a lifetime of exposure, our need for these carotenoids likely rises.

Finally, want another reason to enjoy that glass of red wine? Resveratrol, a 2010 study suggests, helps curtail uncontrolled blood vessel growth in the eyes, a process implicated in diabetic retinopathy and AMD.

Then there’s the question of lifestyle as a whole. Compare the sedentary lifestyles we live today with the continually active lives of our ancestors. Inactivity is a risk factor for many eye disorders, and the “near work” of reading, texting, and other activities undoubtedly explain much of the modern explosion in myopia rates. Though individual genetics contribute a predisposition, the lives we choose to lead have their say as well. In the instance of myopia, for example, we may all in a sense be predisposed as a species. As researchers from the Australian National University explain, “high heritability sets no limit to the potential for environmentally induced change.” With the advent of “education and urbanisation,” we’re seeing that “[a] propensity to develop myopia in “myopigenic” environments thus appears to be a common human characteristic. We’re designed to look out across a vast savannah, not be limited to the dimensions of a living room, let alone a smartphone screen. Clearly, we need to expand our visual horizons.

As is so often the case, living as close as we can to our genetic expectations goes a long way toward countering the strains of modern patterns and supporting our inherent functioning. Eating Primal, getting sunlight, staying active, and enjoying a visual life of distant, outdoor scope all become part of a more natural, Primal kind of prescription for maintaining the best eye health we can.

Thanks for reading today. Let me know your thoughts on maintaining eye health with natural means. Have a great day, everyone.

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105 thoughts on “The Modern Assault on Eyesight”

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  1. I love hearing about the role that nutrition plays in eye health – yet another area where primal is best. 🙂 It inspires me to continually read of the impact of food in all areas of my life!

    1. True, crunchy.

      Still, the article doesn’t cover the things that really cause bad eyesight, and the ways to fix it. I found the GettingStronger forums, and Alex Frauenfeld’s site and forum to be very clear on this, and helpful.

      It’s NOT really sunlight or diet. It’s close-up eye strain.

      I had -6.75D glasses, a year ago. I’m at -4.50 now, a massive improvement. And it’s not because of sunlight or other vagueness. It’s very concrete and clear, the use of prescription lenses, and how to manage close-up.

      The amount of guessing, fluff-talk kills me, when the correct answers are available, out there (though maybe not the most easy to locate online). A lot of good behavioral ophthalmologists and clinical research will tell you all the same things.

      Just Google gettingstronger and the frauenfeld method. No doubt, that’s where the whole eye subject bullseye is.

      1. Wrong. sunlight DOES play a part in myopia. Sunlight AND less near work reduce and prevent myopia. Going outside, doing outside activities (such as sports) and taking breaks when studying, and studying outside in around 1,000 lux (ie the shade) is the key. Watch SciShow’s video on myopia on YouTube by searching myopia SciShow.

  2. I come from a family with a terrible ocular history, and because of my son’s childhood interest I am terribly interested in anything to do with vision.

    Thanks for this great info. It’s easy for me to feel helpless living in the modern world with all our screens–so I want to know what we can do about it!

    Also….breastfeeding may prevent nearsightedness. Sweet! Who would’ve thought it?

    1. Breastfeeding and a nutritious primal diet! I come from a family with terrible ocular history too. My daughter’s dad’s side too is absolutely terrible. I started reading weston price’s work and things along those lines when my daughter was a baby and became determined to stamp out the line of myopia (and crooked teeth). So far so good. Her eye sight is perfect and her teeth are straight! 6 years of paleo and 1.5 years of breastfeeding. She’s a little freakin miracle!

      1. Wow. I’m very impressed and inspired! I’m hoping for the same too, as we’re planning on having one next summer.

  3. I remember being 7 years old and wishing for glasses because my older sister had them and I thought they were just SO cool. Be careful what you wish for…

  4. Mark,

    I’m intrigued by the Bates Method for improving eyesight and am thinking about trying it. Jimmy Moore interviewed someone several months ago who discussed this – you stress your eyes by wearing reading glasses, and reading just beyond where it seems to be in focus. Your eyes “adjust” and you can read effectively. Over time, you train your eyes and improve.

    http://www.thelivinlowcarbshow.com/shownotes/3638/todd-becker-on-getting-stronger-with-hormesis-episode-441/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bates_method

    1. I got interested in the Bates Method some years ago. I think that it can be helpful to a degree, and can perhaps help mitigate eye strain, but I don’t think it will reverse things like high myopia or bad astigmatism. Good luck, though – no harm in trying it!

  5. “Give me land lots of land in this country that I love Don’t fence me in.” or wall me in

    I guess looking good naked and good vision go hand in hand, interesting… more research needed.

  6. I think there is a strong correlation between braces and glasses. Neolithic foods probably have have a detrimental effect on proper cranial development leading to the need for both.

    1. Dr. Weston Price in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration established a correlation between neolithic foods and cranial development

      1. WAP also talked about the aborigines and their ability to see and track animals, literally miles away, that their white colonial counterparts could not even see. Their abilities were so advanced it was seen as an almost sixth sense in one of the harshest environments on earth in one of the oldest known living races.

        He also described the natives physical degeneration resulting from the displacement of their native diets as being more damaging than almost any other group of natives in the world.

        Very, very sad how their culture was destroyed and the nutritional knowledge that was lost as well.

    2. Yes, I am proof that cranial abnormalities (face bones) due to nutrition deficiency during pregnancy DOES result in bad eyesight.
      I have an underdeveloped right side of the face, giving me a slight astigmatism on that side with bone pressure on the outside of the right eye socket. Bad eyesight in that right eye since childhood.
      My right eye sits slightly lower on my face than the fully developed left eye and its facial bones. (This is all slight and nobody would notice this right off the bat)

      On that right, underdeveloped side I have crowding of teeth, an impacted wisdom tooth and difficulty breathing through that nostril. On that side I have also a cowlick =-P

      I know for a fact that nutrition has EVERYTHING to do with this, except, it isn’t MY fault, it’s my Mothers!

      I am now undergoing slow palatal expansion to repair some of the damage done to me by mother(nature), by a craniofacial orthodontist. So far, I have ditched my glasses for my astigmatism, my eyeball is now straight, and can be held straight within the eyesocket, all day. The vision is still kinda bad (too much MMORPG’ing), but I try to limit viewing things nearby and focus on things far away often to relax my eye muscles.

      I started the primal diet 6 months prior to starting the slow palatal expansion, which will affect my entire facial bones up into the frontal bone.
      If people are interested in reading more about this go to Health Matters to Me by Ryan Koch (Adult Palatal Expansion).

      1. I had to wear a palatal expander when I wore braces to correct dental overcrowding. I had never heard that it could impact vision, and mine didn’t change. But it did widen my sinus cavities and improved my breathing quite a bit.

        But I think going Paleo has helped my sinuses more than anything. I’ve had chronic swelling in my ears and nasal sinuses for years. The doctors usually just want to prescribe allergy medicines or steroids, which I hate, so I’ve been just living with it. Finally the swelling in my ears is going away. It’s amazing.

    3. I have long wondered about this. I already wore glasses when I got braces around age 11. My front teeth were moved back to align with my too-small lower jaw, and I always wondered if that affected the development of both my sinuses and eye sockets. My vision continued to get worse after my orthodontia was removed, and I developed allergies around that time as well.

    4. That would make sense, as the maxilla (upper jaw), which is underdeveloped in the case of crooked teeth, also happens to form the floor of the eye socket. If this is underdeveloped, the eyeball itself is not supported properly in the socket and is more likely to become oblong, resulting in myopia or astigmatism.

  7. Pre-natal and childhood nutrition affects the development of the palate and facial bone structure, including the shape of the eye sockets. It appears the poor nutrition results in a narrowed palate, crowded teeth and a tendency to become near-sighted.

  8. I think that environment has the biggest effect on eye health. I eat primal. But, I have been working in an office environment sitting in front of a computer with no natural light for 5 years now. About 3 years ago I discovered that I needed glasses. However, my twin sister, who works as a personal trainer in a gym and is rarely in front of the computer, still has 20/20 vision. She eats “well”, but is not primal.

    1. Unfortunately I sit in front of a computer all day too. I recently graduated from college and just started my career so I have only been doing it for about a year and a half. I hope I wont need glasses, I try and do everything so that I wont end up with them, I look horrible in glasses lol :p

    2. I am an identical twin and an airline pilot and I do not wear glasses, and at 48 years old I still have 20/20 vision. My brother, also healthy, but an attorney who spends his days reading documents in front of computer screens has had glasses for 20 years. Environment and epigenetics must play a part, interesting.

      1. Do you manage to eat primal when you are working? As a flight attendant myself, I find it very, very difficult 🙁

  9. About 20 years ago I was having head aches and a hard time seeing things at a distance. I was prescribed glasses, which I wore for about a year. The glasses seemed to make my eye sight worse. So I gave them up. My eyes became stronger, and only in the last couple of years did I need to start wearing reading glasses. I try to not use reading glasses to much though, I don’t want my eyes to become weak and dependent on them all the time.

  10. Decades ago, I read a book about correcting your eyesight without glasses. If I can find the title, I will post it (“Better Eyesight Without Glasses” on Amazon seems to be close to what I remember). If I remember correctly, it basically involved going without glasses and strengthening the muscles in the eyeball through exercises. You do need to go cold turkey off your glasses, though.

    Interestingly, my wife and I (and most of our siblings and parents) are myopic, but only one of my three children has a vision issue.

  11. Really interesting Mark, thanks. I’m adopted and wasn’t breastfed, so I was really fascinated by the note that breastfeeding may have an impact on eyesight. My eyesight was terrible from a young age (severely nearsighted to the point where at the worst i couldn’t make out the “E” at the top of the eye charts!). Thankfully the modern fix to this, Lasik, has brought me to 20/20 again so I can get back to scanning the plains for bison ?

  12. Recently I was in an argument with a raw vegan (never do that about anything obviously!) who insisted that by being raw and vegan myopia can actually “go away”..You be the judge of that, but she also had some studies to refer me to..I never looked up anything just cause I know its not true..By this I mean that we can probably find studies connecting any type of diet with something about myopia..Im certain it has nothing to do with it though, its more of a genetics and lifestyle combination in my opinion..
    But thats just me..
    I eat primal but Im not expecting anything to happen to my myopia!

  13. My mom has both the wet and dry form of macular degeneration. Never gave food a real thought – she smoked for 50+ years and thought it was that. But perhaps her crappy diet could have played a part.

    She has since gone primal, but I am afraid the damage is done to her eyes. SHe lost weight and all her blood counts are back under control. But she still doesn’t see very well. Given the physiology of the disease, I don’t see how it could be reversed.

  14. Very interesting article.

    Both my parents have myopia and astigmatism, and doctors once told them that my brother and I would have a 95-98% chance of needing glasses by the time we were 15. I just turned thirty, and I’m 20/20 in one eye, and slightly less in the other eye. Still nowhere near needing glasses, and my brother is the same.

    We at a pretty CW based diet growing up, but I will say that my mother was very insistent on cooking everything from scratch and providing us healthy snacks rather than packaged, processed food. We were also both breastfed. It’s interesting to think about how we might have been affected by our early diet.

  15. “The researchers noted that font size on smart phones were an average of 20% smaller than printed text. In some cases, viewed fonts were 70% smaller. (Time for that monocle.) What does this mean for us techno-suckers? Because of the size and distance, our eyes have a harder time focusing on the print. The strain involves two processes called accommodation, the adjustment from near to far distance, and vergence, eye movement toward and away from one another.”

    Mark,

    You have a small font! Most bloggers do and its fine with me but, a larger font would make it easier on our eyes! It’s why my font is a touch bigger than most blogs. More readers.

    1. You can increase the size of the font on any site in your browser.

      1. Si. On a windows machine, just hit Ctrl+ to up the font as much as you wish, and Ctrl- to lower it.

        Granted, I usually use this to lower the font so I can fit more tiny stuff on the screen. >.< D'oh!

  16. Disclaimer: N=1 here.

    I have been eating primal for the last 1.5 years. I had a stable -3.75 power in both eyes since I was about 10 years old (32 now). Since going primal, over three office visits, my vision has steadily improved to -3.0 in my right eye and -3.25 in my left eye. It has been fascinating to watch the steady progression (and I have another check-up in a month’s time). It could be the diet, could be the wine, could be something else… but I think the former two definitely help!!

  17. I would like to bring up two different studies, one I read 20 years ago that claimed that children under 2 years of age need absolute darkness at night. They compared the children’s myopic eyes to the myopic eyes of chicks raised under a heat lamp.
    The second one I read just recently which suggested that children don’t get enough sunshine (ie intense light) to keep their eyes strong. I think this one was mentioned in the NY Times

    1. If that study was only done on chicks I would be very skeptical of the conclusions extrapolating it to children. Bird vision and mammal vision are very, very different. For example, most birds have very poor low-light and night vision, while mammals adapted to it almost exclusively at some time in the distant past.

  18. Along the lines of lutein and zeaxanthin, plain old vitamin C is very important to eye health. In fact the eyes can intake C at the rate of up to 1000mg a day!

  19. I was on a gluten free diet until I was 9 or 10 when it was decided that I has outgrown coeliac disease ( this was 79/80 and medical CW thought this was the case)
    at that time I had perfect vision.
    By the time I was 12 I needed glasses and my eyesite got steadily worse until my mid 20’s (-4.5 and -4.25). My eyesight stabilised at this point and I had LASIK in my mid 30’s. Last year I was re-diagnosed as a Coeliac (well duh really). So there’s some anectdotal evidence as to the possible causes of myopia!

  20. Interesting post indeeded! I wonder if it has anything to do with why me and my sister have more crooked teeth and worse eyesight while my brother (the youngest) managed to be born with better teeth and eyes. He also has better ears than me and my sister. Maybe my mom ate healthier when she was pregnant with him, though I can’t say for sure that she did.

    I didn’t learn about whole foods/primal until after my son was born, but I did catch on before he was a year. His teeth are much better than both mine and his dads (his dad’s are pretty bad) so far. Don’t know about sight yet since he’s not quite 3 and hasn’t had his vison checked. His hearing is scores better than mine, though I think mine is partially genetic since my father also has hearing issues and I am much more him genetically than my mom who has good hearing.

  21. I am one of the lucky ones: at 59 I use reading glasses (with minimal graduation, 1.15), but I can read without them. Both long and short distance are good. I noticed that one of my eyes is better at short distance and the other at long, so the combined effect is good overall: knock knock – sound of knocking wood 😉
    And I think my eyesight is better since my almost two years of Grokhood

  22. Great post. I was wondering if there was any research on far-sightedness. I can see fairly well distantly, but need glasses for reading since I hit 50. Only been on primal for 11 weeks and have already seen improvements overall but not eyesight

    1. I wonder about farsightedness too. I have made it much longer than others in my family without needing reading glasses, but at age 46 I am starting to notice subtle changes that make me think my turn is coming. I hate wearing any glasses and would love it if my diet could help slow the progression.

  23. What happens if one gets Lasik for myopia, then goes paleo? Just a random thought.

    I learned a lot from this post. For some reason what we consume and how our bodies break it down chemically speaking makes sense to me. But the discussion on bone structure and how a paleo/primal life could lead to children’s bones forming in a way to not need braces is beyond my comprehension right now. Will do research! Thanks.

    1. Look up the research of Dr. Weston Price. Once this idea clicks you’ll wonder how the rest of the world doesn’t notice it.

  24. There’s also the simple fact that kids aren’t outside very much – they almost never have the need to focus on something far away. When most of their time is indoors, everything is close to them, no horizons to peer at.

  25. I have not commented before but as an optometrist felt the need to chime in on this subject. I see these diseases daily in my office and part of that was behind me going “primal” seven months ago. There is no doubt nutrition has a major impact on your eye health. I see it daily. Humans have a tremendous ability to adapt and I think our myopia shift reflects the change in our environment over the last 100 years. For an example of human vision adaptation see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIKm3Pq9U8M

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12747831

    Thanks for all the great work on MDA – love the site.

  26. Great last point on being “designed to look out across a vast savannah, not be limited to the dimensions of a living room, let alone a smartphone screen.”

    Just another reason to start motivating yourself to get outside. I agree, “we need to expand our visual horizons.”

    Plus its always a good time to look at immense beauty and snap a few photos while your at it!

  27. I have been myopic all my life and have needed some kind of corrective since the age of 7. I now have posterior vitreous detatchment and a trace retinal detachment with awful floaters in my R eye. I’ve only been primal for the last 5 years, so I am now wondering if all the xxxx number of years of high carb intake, low fat dieting (failed) and close typing/screen work did the damage and it is too late to put it right.

  28. Interesting post, as I had been thinking about this recently. Eyesight does change – and it can be for the better. For most of my life, my eyes got steadily worse, until a) I had treatment for dyspraxia, and b) 10 yrs later discovered I was coeliac so now have a primal diet (not just no gluten). My eyes are still improving – from ‘-6’ 14yrs ago to ‘-1.5’last year. And I noticed recently that my glasses are too strong again! Reading is still comfortable – but I was so shortsighted that it affected reading too – so no way yet to see if a better diet stops that deteriorating. How to confuse your optician!

    1. Jenny, that is nothing short of miraculous! A couple questions if you’d be so kind to answer: How strict are you with your primal diet? Do you feel the improvement is due primarily to going gluten-free? For instance, do you still eat gluten-free bread/pasta? You may really be onto something. Thanks.

  29. Good article. Couldn’t finish it though, my eyes started hurting……

  30. This is interesting because my 12 year old sister was recently diagnosed with myopia.

    It didn’t occur to me that it might be lifestyle related, but when you bring it up it actually makes a lot of sense.

  31. I am going to get palatal expansion as soon as I can afford it, and I’m *hoping* that it might improve my eyesight (particularly my mild astigmatism) through making more room for my eyeballs. I’m also planning on getting Lasik afterward, assuming I still need it–but I’ll definitely wait until the facial bones are done shifting first!

  32. I have bad, but stable, eyesight. My hope is that going primal can, at least, keep it from getting worse.

  33. I don’t remember if this has been covered, but what about getting the benefits of wine without drinking wine? I hate the taste of all alcohol.

  34. I did a little test once. We do a lot of hiking, and one day after a full day’s hike up in the mountains, I noticed that my vision was so improved that I didn’t need my glasses for the rest of the evening. (This was before primal living.) A few weeks later, I sat on my deck and looked out over hte gorge at the snowcaps, for a full day – huge distances. That did not help my vision. Vistas plus exercise is the moral of the story. Now I rarely need my glasses.

  35. Great article.
    I got glasses at the age of 17 and most likely due to using the computer too often and probably some diet relation as well.
    Do you think it is possible to even improve one’s eye sight so you don’t need glasses anymore at least to a certain degree ?
    e.g. i have like dioptre value of 2

  36. I stopped eating wheat and dairy a few years ago, but I haven’t been doing the full primal thing for more than a few days. However, JUST by going GFCF, both my eyes improved by .25. That’s not much, but they were -.25 and -.75, meaning my left eye percription dropped by half. I need to check again, because that was over a year ago… Anyone else?

  37. I started eating primally about two months ago now. Before that, my vision was rapidly deteriorating. (My dad, a physician, asked if I’d had my blood sugar checked recently, so I think there’s something in the idea that I was at the very least mildly pre-diabetic.) Since going on it, my vision has improved dramatically. I’m only 26 and have spent my life on various low-fat, high-carb diets, thanks to being raised with an ex-anorexic mother and a dad who bought into CW too much.

  38. That was a typo on my above post. My eyesight was -.50 and -.75…

  39. herbal preparations of eyebright and bilberry (or blueberry) can be very helpful in maintaining good eye health. i took these in the months before and after PRK, and my ophthalmologist said i had the cleanest and quickest recovery of anyone he’d ever seen. (i was also about a year into eating Primal.)

    as for resveratrol, the highest plant source we have is Japanese knotweed, which is considered an “invasive” species in this country.

    1. I’m having LASEK done in a few weeks, so I will definitely start making eating blueberries a daily habit before and after my surgery. Carrots couldn’t hurt either. I’ll let you know how it goes.

      My vision is currently 20/200 and I’ve worn glasses since I was 6 y/o. Everyone in my family has terrible eyesight, so it’s probably a combination of genetics and diet.

  40. I got short-changed on the genetics front. My dad (blue eyes) and mum (brown eyes) both had excellent sight. My dad’s sisters and mothers (dark green eyes) needed glasses. I got the dark green eyes. I could see really well into my teens but after 15 I got increasingly myopic and had to get glasses once I started learning to drive. My prescription never got worse than -2.25 but I couldn’t see faces or read at a distance. I eventually got lasik, which is the best money I ever spent. Still, it would have been nice to inherit the good eye gene from either of my parents!

    (Fortunately I got the big jaw gene and never had to wear braces. My teeth are almost perfectly aligned).

  41. Isn’t the increase in eye-problems sufficient to say that these problems should be related to life-style? The genes will not have evolved much the last centuries. The difficult question remains, which aspect is wrong. You would expect a huge research effort in this direction.

  42. I’m not totally convinced. My mother grew up essentially “primal” without knowing it (before your awesome website was here!) and totally raised both me and my sister in this way of eating. I didn’t start eating like crap until late high school/early college (and now I’m trying to recover!) We always had a high protein diet (mostly wild game: venison, elk, salmon, some buffalo) and very few carbs. She breastfed, made all our baby food herself, etc. And we did nothing but play outside growing up (no TV until college either).
    I had to get glasses in 2nd grade, and to this day have awful vision (-4.25 and -4.75)
    I totally agree that a primal diet has SO MUCH to do with a healthy life, but I do think we are simply pre-disposed to some things. I’ll have to see how it goes when my husband and I start a family, and just hope that my kids can see like they’re supposed to!
    Thanks for another great post Mark!

  43. I nursed my baby for 20 months, so it must be other factors that now, at 19yo, her vision is -7.0 in both eyes. 🙁

  44. Farsighted, probably since birth (I got glasses when my parents tested me prior to starting school).

    The glasses I wear are quite thick, most people can’t see anything at all when they try them on (+4, +5). But personally I went a whole year without wearing them (because I sat on/broke a pair and it took me a year to find another pair that I liked) – I was able to do so because my parents were diligent doing the doctor suggested eye training exercises with me as a child.

  45. I have always been VERY nearsighted. Before going paleo a couple of years ago, my vision had hit -10 in each eye. Since then, my vision has improved to -8 in one and -8.5 in the other. The last couple of visits to the optometrist he did the “this one, or this one… number one or number two” repeatedly because he didn’t believe I’d really changed that much. It’s only n=1 but hey, I was thrilled.

  46. There is a lot of work done on natural eyesight within the Alexander Technique world which draws on F. M. Alexander’s work and also the Bates Method. Peter Grunwald with Eyebody has taken this a long way. I have colleagues who have had laser eye surgery but I have always wanted to try a more natural approach. I have been myopic over 50 years and would like to be able to ditch my glasses but I also enjoy being able to read easily without them. Eyebody stress realxation as a major component of progress along with certain focussed exercises. Now where did I put my pinhole glasses?

  47. My vision declined when I was in grade 6 and I’ve worn glasses ever since. My theory is that I got a lot of chlorine exposure from swimming lessons and yes, opening my eyes underwater all the time. Hey, I was 8, I didn’t know any better. I think it very likely was the catalyst or at least a contributing factor in my eyesight going bad at such a young age.

  48. It is extremely important to take breaks from the computer every so often to focus on something more than two feet away. I try to do so every 15-20 minutes.

    Don’t just look away from the screen. Look out a window, or at anything more than 20 feet away. Try very hard to focus on it. It’ll be difficult, and it’ll take some effort. Keep trying: focusing is done by a muscle in the eye. If you let that muscle atrophy, no focusing for you!

    JS

  49. My dh & I have around -6 in both eyes. Neither was bf’d much, both lots of reading and were “smart,” loved being outside, though, and ate SAD. Our bookworm daughter was already -5 by age 10, but our 7yo son was going down the same path, and he didn’t read at all. Both were bf’d for 3 years, ate very little sugar, but lots of “healthy whole grains” and little fat.

    FF 3 years. We’d been primal for 2-3 years and have the kids’ eyes checked. NEITHER has progressed in the last year, and their 7yo brother has no signs of the deterioration that was already rampant on the older two by that time. The biggest change in that year was a decrease in grains (from 3svg/day to <1) and increase in broths & ferments – we had already increased fat several years back. I wish I could say increased sunlight, but I still struggle implementing that one.

    Their optometrist was stunned and I was giddy. A 12 year old who reads nonstop and a high IQ with two severely myopic parents and already regressed to -5.5… should be rapidly worsening. Both the 12yo & 9yo stopped at the same time. Simply amazing.

    I blogged on this topic a few years ago, still unsure at that point what was key, but certain carbs played some part. Here it is, with several links to studies: http://loveyourmother.livejournal.com/1188.html

    1. Forgot to mention myself – no improvemenet that I’ve noticed yet. I think the palate expansion is fascinating, but do believe diet should allow some amount of improvement, although as bad as my eyes are, it would take dramatic improvement to make a useful difference.

  50. The thing I hated about glasses was when it rained and I could hardly see a thing. I assume this doesn’t happen with contacts, but I was too squeamish to wear them. And having had an operation for something (totally unrelated to eyesight) before, there was NO WAY I would even consider laser surgery.

    Several years back I discovered the “Vision for Life” course (now called Rebuild Your Vision) and due to the money back guarantee thought I’d give it a try as I had nothing to lose.

    About 4 months later I didn’t need my specs any more. Boy was I happy, and still am.

    This incorporates the Bates method and other well known stuff but in a very simple form (it’s nice when things are easy).

    Basically it’s all about exercising and RELAXING the eye muscles with easy courses for most vision problems (my problem was short sight). Just exactly the same stuff we do for our other muscles in this non-primal world.

    Like anything, it won’t work for everyone. But here is one very happy camper. The link is http://www.rebuildyourvision.com/

  51. I needed glasses in the 4th grade..and have astigmatism in one eye, too. I am 38.
    I wore contacts in high school, but they were a *bitch* to fit and were never comfortable.
    I have been Paleo/Primal for 3 years and have had my prescription reduced once since then, I avoid the eye Dr. like the plague, anyway. I hate the dentist, too. (my teeth are fine!)Maybe my eyes are even better at this point!
    Due for a check up soon. UGH
    Side note, I nursed both my girls, and my oldest *failed* her school eye test, after an exam was prescribed READING glasses, of all things! LOL..I can read just fine, but you are a total blur at 10 ft…ha ha..The eye DR. said she might not need them next year (she NEVER ears them) as her eyes are still growing! She just turned 9 and is going into….yup, 4th grade, AND she has Dad’s eyes all the way! Go figure!

  52. At each visit to the eye doctor for the past 3 years, my prescription has been lowered. Oddly enough, this roughly corresponds to my adopting the paleo/primal lifestyle. My doctor thought it made sense, but she was unable to find much research behind it, beyond studies much like Mark linked here.

    A very interesting read!

  53. In baseball pitchers will use “long toss” — that is throwing a great distance — to help them add power to their relatively short throws from the mound to home plate.

    Looking across the savanna might work the same way.

  54. I wore glasses since the age of 20 until the age of 55. Myopia only, I never needed reading glasses, but my optician insisted I use reading glasses when I reached 40. I ignored her advice. One day, I decided not to use glasses anymore… it was awkward, walking down the streets of Manhattan without being able to focus properly, but I felt free, like someone who swims naked. After a while I did not have to use glasses at the movie, then I did not need them to drive. At the age of 62, and a recent PB convert always mindful of proper nutrition, I have better than 20/20 vision and enjoy perfect health (I have never taken any medicine)…

    1. thanks.
      but my prescription is complicated (myopia + astigmatism + presbyopia). am not sure how to train my eyes by hormesis (maybe – lens while reading + lens for distance?)

  55. I’m 52 and feel I’ve been fortunate (so far), -1.00 and 1.25 for several years now (w/astigmatism as well).

    I’m just starting to need reading glasses in some situations–very low light and small print, but overall I’m still able to read menus and drive without correction.

    On the other hand, I work in tech support so I’m on a computer all day and read everything electronically these days (albeit, on an iPad as opposed to a smart phone), so I know eye strain is definitely an issue.

    My mother, at 75, has recently been diagnosed with macular degeneration, thought it’s not bad (yet, and hopefully will not get bad). However, she has a host of medical issues, including Type II Diabetes and high blood pressure). It’s supposed to be heriditary and I definitely fear it.

    However, I’m hoping my next eye exam shows improvement since I’ve been Primal.

  56. 3D “magic eye” books are supposed to force your eye muscle to do the opposite type of focus we do with all our computer reading. Also, Todd Becker at “getting stronger” blog writes of forcing eye muscles to train (by not using glasses).
    Resveratrol in wine? I thought pill form resveratrol had to be concentrated 1000x (or some such large amount) from red wine. So can’t imagine we are really able to get much resveratrol benefit from a glass of red wine (although there are no doubt polyphenol anti-oxidants).

  57. Want to use that distance sight in a quasi-Grok way? Take up rifle shooting using only iron sights (no scopes). Don’t like guns? Pick up a spear… Grok would approve…

  58. When I was 3, I was diagnosed as legally blind. It had improved vastly since then, and I am happy to report my 3 year old has NO eye problems. Maybe the fact that she is still occasionally breastfed has something to do with it also.

  59. Keep in mind that the causes are vague at best. It’s very difficult to find interventional or clinical studies on macular degeneration. Everything cited in this article is either epidemiological or an animal study (resveratrol). The evidence for antioxidants (by virtue of their antioxidantness) are ambiguous as well. I do wonder if eating “ancestrally” would mitigate the damage done by a modern lifestyle. If the Kitavans can smoke all day, then I get my Youtube. It’s only fair. After all, these epidemiological (!) studies were done on the general public.

    Mildly farsighted in one eye. Desk job. No improvements noted yet. I’ve been at this for around 2 years.

  60. Books that have helped me:
    Natural Vision Improvement by Janet Goodrich
    Take off your glasses and see, by Jacob Liberman
    Relearning to see, by Thomas Quackenbush

    Just like any other part of our body, our eyes need attention, exercise and nutrition. The first step is realizing that you are not doomed to continually worsening vision.

    I have improved my vision significantly with methods from the books above.

    There are people out there who teach classes, I have heard, but rumor has it that they get shut down by ‘the man’ for practicing optometry without a license. It is tragic that most people never hear of any alternative to getting glasses.

    Also, supposedly, the Chinese have eye exercise and relaxation in their schools and subsequently fewer eye problems.

    1. The worst part is

      “The Esselstyn diet is tough for most Americans to swallow: no meat, no eggs, no dairy, no added oils.”

      How frustrating…..

  61. This makes me hopeful, especially the comments. I’ve had bad eyesight for as long as I can remember and going blind(unlikely) is one of my biggest fears, every time I go to check my eyes I dread to hear that it’s gotten worse. But this gives me hope and the thought that it might even get better is thrilling. =)

  62. about the font size on a smart phone:

    the worst one is

    google phone (Android)

    it looks so pretty;

    have to squint so hard.

    (the font size can be adjusted on the web browser but NOT in all other programs so apparently the device has the capability built-in but they just don’t implement it.

    come on! google!

    Palm/Visor could do this > 10 year ago!

  63. Enjoyed your article, Mark. As a few comments above allude, many have had great success reversing their myopia through a method I describe on my blog “Getting Stronger”.

    While genetics and diet predispose us to myopia, by far the most important factor is reading behaviors. Individuals and cultures that spend much of the day in front of a book or screen are inducing myopia and experiments with humans and animals have proven this. But what few people realize is that myopia can be reversed using a technique called print pushing, optionally the help of plus lenses, leading to re-elongation of the eye.

    I wore glasses since age 14, but ten years ago, at age 45 I reversed my -3 diopter myopia and no longer wear glasses. I’ve documented the research that supports myopia reversal (the IRDT theory) and how to apply in my post at http://gettingstronger.org/2010/07/improve-eyesight-and-throw-away-your-glasses/

    There is also an active discussion on this topic at http://forum.gettingstronger.org/index.php/topic,8.0.html

  64. I’ve had severe myopia since I was a kid. I can believe the development has to do with diet. Basically, myopia means your eye ball is too long, and lense can’t focus light correctly on the retina. So it does seem like a growth disorder, and nutrition is an obvious suspect. But I have no illusion that diet is going to cure my myopia by somehow shrinking my eye balls! The deed is done. I’m just hoping to avoid detached retinas. Those are common in myopics because of the shape of the eyeball. It’s an engineering issue. I don’t think diet will help that much, either, but maybe. But I do feel hopeful about dodging AMD via diet.

  65. Great article, but the comments section here is overflowing with great links, stories and advice.

    I have long since wondered why eyesight degeneration is such a common problem and why there are not more natural solutions. Eye glasses and contacts do not address the root cause. Like the proliferation of prescription drugs in the medical industry, eye glass prescriptions do nothing to identify and address the root cause.

  66. And now for something completely anecdotal:

    I’ve had slight myopia with astigmatism since my teens. Since going Primal about 6 months ago, the astigmatism has completely vanished, to my amazement and that of my opthamologist.

    At 46, I have a Master’s Degree and am currently in law school, so I read constantly. Even when putting on cosmetics and fixing my hair, I keep my kindle open beside me and glance at it to keep reading. I read every time I walk on the treadmill. I don’t need reading glasses, but I’m keeping an eye on things (sorry!) and will be interested to see if being Primal will help me stave off presbyopia.

    My twins, now 18, were born 2 months prematurely and weren’t breastfed. I was sick at their birth and had no milk. Their vision is, sadly, terrible.

    1. 46? yep, that’s about when my prescription started changing too, it’s called ageing. Trouble is you’ll find that you just exchange some of your myopia for hyperopia as you get older.

  67. Just finishing my second month of primal and can’t say enough about the improvement overall. For the first time in 20 years of living in the Pacific Northwest I didn’t have SAD in November, which is usually the month that I dread. Tons of energy, no mild depression. It was like a miracle.

    Now I’m curious regarding eyesight. I’ve worn multi-focals for several years, and a year ago switched to contacts. In the last couple of weeks, suddenly they aren’t as effective and seem to be causing more blurriness. Plus two contacts in a row fell out of my right eye. Hmm! I’ve lost 20 pounds, many inches (though I didn’t measure “before”, I’ve now outshrunk a lot of my clothes).

    Anyone else experienced this or similar?

    I’m actually looking forward to my next eye exam 🙂