People with eye problems consulting standard opthalmologists are generally told there is no solution other than drugs, surgery or glasses. However, herbal medicine has had great success in treating glaucoma, myopia, nightblindness, macular degenerati

This has been highlighted recently in Botanical Influences on Illness: A Sourcebook of Clinical Research (Third Line Press, Tarzana, California, 1994), a superb source reference manual, co-authored by WDDTY panelist Dr Melvyn R Werbach, who has produced excellent sourcebooks on nutritional medicine, and Dr Michael T Murray, a naturopath often cited with with J E Pizzorno in this column.

A single 200 mg dose of Vaccinium myrtillus (bilberry or European blueberry) extract (VME) brought about measurable improvements (via electro retinography) in patients with glaucoma and myopia (Arch Med Int, 1985; 37: 29-35).

Elsewhere, VME measurably improved the visual threshold of 80 per cent of treated patients (Ann Oftalm Clin Ocul, 1966; 92: 595-605). Another test of patients given 400 mg per day of VME and 20 mg/day of beta-carotene demonstrated improved adaptation to light and night vision, and enlargement of the visual field (Ann Oftalm Clin Ocul, 1965; 91: 371-86). Other studies confirm that VME when used with vitamin E can improve myopia (Klin Monatsbl Augenheilkd, 1977; 171 (4): 616-9).

Pycnogenols (PCG) containing complexes of the vitamin C like flavonoid nutrients, are made from the leaves of the hazelnut bush, the bract (the little leaves below the flower petals) of the lime tree, the bark of the Landes’ pine or grapeseed skin (Vitis vinifera). PCG given at 150-300 mg per day has been demonstrated to significantly improve visual performance in the dark and after glare (J Fr Ophthalmol, 1988; 11 (5): 453-60 and Bull Soc Ophthalmol Fr, 1988; 88 (2): 173-4, 177-9).

In another small study, 85.7 per cent of myopic patients receiving Vitis vinifera demonstrated significant improvement and 40 per cent remarkable improvements as noted by retinal measurement (Ann Oft Clin Ocul, 1988; 114: 85-93).

Thirty one patients with various types of retinopathy, including that caused by anti coagulant drugs or diabetes, treated with VME showed reduced permeability and hemorrhage (Klin Montsbl Augenheilkd, 1981; 178:386-89).

In a well controlled double blind study, an extract of Ginkgo biloba leaves (GBE) brought about significant improvement in chronic cerebroretinal ischemia (lack of adequate blood supply to the eyes) in elderly patients (Klin Montsbl Augenheilkd, 1991; 199(6): 432-8).

GBE also caused significant long term improvement in patients with senile macular degeneration (Presse Med, 1986; 15 (31): 1556-8) and severe retinal circulatory disturbances or glaucoma (Klin Montsbl Augenhelkd, 1980, 177 (5): 577-83).

Two supplements containing herbs and nutrients for eye problems include Ocudyne capsules, made by EuroNutri, which contain beta carotene, antioxidant vitamins and minerals, bilberry and Ginkgo biloba, and Bilberry Ginkgo Eyebright complex vegicaps from American company Solgar, which also is rich in antioxidants.

Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, osteopath and homeopath.

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