Orthodox versus Traditional Eyecare: An interview with Dr. Marc Grossman
Author: Michael Edson
An interview with Dr. Marc Grossman, co-author of Natural Eye Care-An Encyclopedia recently published by Keats, practitioner of Behavioral/Holistic Optometry for over 20 years, Licensed Acupuncturist and director of Integral Health Associates located in New Paltz, New York and Rye Learning Center in Rye, New York.
Interviewer: It is commonly thought that vision naturally worsens with age, and that the need for stronger and stronger prescriptions is normal.
Dr. Grossman: Medical science doesn't really know why or how most poor eyesight develops, yet it wrongly believes that eyesight almost always worsens, and that nothing can be done about it. It is as if the eyes function separately from us, and all we can do is stand idly by as they deteriorate.
Interviewer: Why have people come to think that eye care is not something we personally can do much about?
Dr. Grossman: First of all, eye care in this country is symptom oriented. In our training as eye doctors we are taught that once something goes wrong with your eyes, there is not much that can be done. We are taught hardly anything about prevention of problems.
People believe that eye problems are just a natural consequence of the aging process, but I have, along with many colleagues, had frequent success with patients in preventing their eyes from worsening, as well as success with improving the condition of patients eyes in such cases as macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma.
Interviewer: What are you interested in pursuing now?
Dr. Grossman: I'm interested in educating the public in an aggressive prevention program. Many studies, such as those out of Harvard University, have already shown the benefits of a nutritional based prevention program for eye diseases such as macular degeneration. I believe many eye diseases can be prevented with proper nutrition and lifestyle changes early on.
Interviewer: What is lacking in the conventional approach for treating eye conditions?
Dr. Grossman: Well, let’s start with people who are near or farsighted. If you need glasses, an eye doctor will prescribe them, you'll pay for them and thank the doctor for helping you see better. In a couple of years the prescription may no longer be strong enough and you will return to your eye doctor and get a stronger prescription, and this cycle will continue through your life. The problem is that each time this happens, the muscles of your eyes settle into the new prescription, and this weakening of the eye muscles further reduces your ability to focus on your own without glasses. In my experience, this cycle need not occur. Through proper nutrition and eye exercises our eye sight can remain strong and even improve over time.
Our eyes are affected through life by many things such as emotional factors, stress and type of work. For instance, over 90 per cent of accountants are nearsighted, but less than 10 per cent of the farmers are. That's because accountants spend an extreme amount of time looking at information on their desks and computers, and farmers are usually looking out across the fields. The brain says " if you make me do close work all day, you will have to give up something, and that something is the ability to see distance. These considerations are rarely addressed by eye doctors.
Another example is with cases of glaucoma. Once diagnosed, patients are typically given eye drops and told they will be on these drops for the rest of their lives. In my opinion, we tend to prescribe medications too quickly before attempting to control the condition naturally and healthfully. Medications often have side effects, and rarely correct the cause of the patient’s problems. I feel the first treatment step in non-acute glaucoma cases should be to evaluate the patient’s lifestyle regarding management of stress, emotional factors, diet and exercise. The second step is to provide nutritional supplementation program to include those nutrients shown in studies to be missing in people with specific conditions. In the case of glaucoma, these nutrients include alpha lipoic acid and essential fatty acids. In the case of macular degeneration, specific nutrients include lutein, zeaxanthin and taurine.
At this point, if the patient is willing, the doctor and patient should work out a program for attaining consistently “normal pressures? and this program would be monitored closely for compliance and effectiveness. In the event the patient’s eye pressure is not controlled, medication can always be added, and a natural approach used in conjunction with the medication, with the goals of minimizing the amount of medication used, and eventually to eliminate the need for medication completely. Keep in mind that from the beginning we are also attempting to prevent eye conditions from worsening over time, at which point even medications may not be enough to prevent loss of vision. This is particularly true for glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and any other eye degenerative disease.
Interviewer: Can you give me an example of how a prevention approach may eliminate the need for medication in the future?
Dr. Grossman: Sure. Let's say you are 56 years old and the eye doctor says you have borderline high intraocular pressures of 26 and 27 mm Hg . They will test your visual field and optic nerve. If the results of the visual field is fine, the doctor will either monitor it regularly or possibly give medication to lower the pressure anyway.
In my opinion, this is completely the wrong approach. Here the patient’s body is telling us way ahead of time that something is wrong, and steps need to be taken to fix it. Instead of thanking the body for this warning, and taking measures to correct it with a natural program, the doctor will either wait till the problem becomes serious enough to demand medications, or put the patient on medications in a preventive mode, without attempting to address the real problem. An often effective natural approach includes dietary changes, nutritional supplementation such as omega 3 essential fatty acids, alpha lipoic acid, vitamin C and physical exercise, which have all been shown by research to help lower eye pressure naturally without medication.
Interviewer: What about macular degeneration?
Dr. Grossman: Macular degeneration is even more frustrating. At present there is no cure for this awful disease, although studies have shown there is much we can do naturally to try to control it. Most of the time the doctor says there is nothing that can be done, but come back in 6 months, to check it again. Sometimes in the case of wet macular degeneration, lasers are used, but this may only temporarily slow down the degeneration. In some cases this treatment makes the condition worse. In my opinion, this approach makes absolutely no sense. Hundreds of studies have shown the benefits of a nutritional program in helping prevent macular degeneration from worsening. These studies emphasize the cartenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, anti-oxidants, taurine (an amino acid), along with the benefits of micro-stimulation. Let me emphasize that the natural approach should be taken immediately upon a patient being diagnosed with macular degeneration. I believe strongly that it is a disservice to these patients not to do everything we can think of, that is proven safe, to preserve their sight. Interviewer: Why does an optimal program for eye health involve diet, exercise, nutritional supplementation and lifestyle changes?
Dr. Grossman: Holistically, you are more than an interesting set of symptoms that must be addressed with the proper drug. You are a complex human being functioning on several levels: emotional, spiritual, and physical. We take all of these levels into consideration when we treat a person because merely repressing the physical symptoms of disease doesn't address the root of the problem. I want to be clear that once a disease appears, it means that a problem has often manifested itself deep into our bodies, and a multifaceted approach needs to be taken, one that deals with the current symptoms and protects the body from further damage, and one that takes a long term approach to actual healing.
We start with nutrition, because more than 25 per cent of the nutrients we absorb from our food go to nourish our visual system. The diet plan we prescribe emphasizes a variety of whole foods, because the body does not use each vitamin and mineral in isolation. The absence of one nutrient can affect the body's ability to use another. Yet no matter how wholesome and pure our food might be, there are factors that affect its nutrient content, such as how it is grown, how it is stored, and how it is cooked. Your age, health, activity level, and stress also can affect what your body needs and how well it's using the nutrients from your diet, which is where supplements come in handy. We routinely recommend vitamin and mineral supplements to our patients.
Next is exercise. Everyone takes for granted that you have to use your muscles to keep them fit. If we know for certain that exercising muscles is important for health and performance, why not regularly exercise our eye muscles to improve our visual fitness. Exercise is extremely important in the prevention of chronic eye diseases because it raises oxygen levels in cells throughout the body and increases lymph and blood circulation. We recommend that you gently build up to aerobic exercise to a minimum of 20 minutes per day, four days a week. Interviewer: What are some important tips to keep our eyes healthy? Dr. Grossman: Here are some tips: 1) Don't keep your eyes focused in one place for a sustained period of time. Change your focus , look up out a window when your doing close work to give your eyes a break. Sustained contraction of the eyes can lead to a contraction of your upper body and neck. Also don't stare, that causes tension on the visual system;
2) Get at least 20 minutes of natural sunlight a day. Go for a walk. The eyes are light sensing organs. It's important to get enough sunlight so that they operate optimally; 3) Remember to wear UV- protective sunglasses to protect your eyes from the damaging effects of sun rays. 4) Quit smoking! Smokers have a significantly higher risk of eye disease than non-smokers; 5) reduce sugar and alcohol intake. Do things in moderation. Interviewer: Is there a place where the conventional and alternative approaches can work together?
Dr. Grossman: Absolutely. The advances modern medicine have made are astounding, particularly in dealing with acute problems and emergencies. If I suddenly had a retinal detachment, I would want to be taken to a conventional hospital immediately. But conventional medicine has lost sight of the long term picture, which is what can we do to nurture the body back to health. It is the body’s remarkable defense system and genetic knowledge that keep us healthy and alive. The body often gives us signals way ahead of time that a problem is emerging, and that we need to make some changes. We need to pay attention to these signals, and listen to what our body is asking from us? Working on this plane is really the strength of what is referred to as alternative medicine. Ultimately, it will be the blending of traditional and alternative medicine that in the long run will provide the best treatment for health and healing.
I hope this information is helpful in having you keep your precious gift of sight for your lifetime. About Dr. Grossman
Marc Grossman, Optometrist and Licensed Acupuncturist, has been helping people preserve their vision in his private practice for over 20 years. He is the co-author of “Natural Eye Care?(Keats, April, 1999), and lectures internationally on natural eye care, nutrition and Chinese medicine. For more information on nutrition and eye disease, you can visit his website at http://www.visionworksusa.com, or call 888-735-8475.