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Restoring 20/20 Vision and Eliminating Cataracts

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Last update: 12/15/15


The eyeball views the world with the help of six tiny muscles that adjust the orb for optimum light and depth perception.  Natural vision therapy operates on the premise that poor eyesight develops from chronic tension in these muscles. The good news is that you can correct some or all of the damage using gentle exercises, ergonomics, getting outdoors more, herbs, certain foods, less time spent in front of LCD screens, and by constantly keeping your eyes in motion.

By Rosemary Regello

You may never hear this from an optometrist, but when your eyesight begins to fade, it isn't just an inevitable consequence of aging. Stress, too little time spent outdoors, a lack of fruit and vegetables, over-exposure to the sun's UV rays, staring and other bad habits contribute mightily to vision loss. Natural vision experts insist that nearly all these obstacles may be overcome without resorting to eyeglasses or contact lenses. In fact, the conventional solutions may actually do more harm than good. Even cataracts may be dissolved without the need for surgery, the alternative practitioners allege, simply by putting your mind to the task. This article (and additional resource pages) explains both natural vision therapy and the treatment of cataracts.

Bates Method for Natural Vision Restoration

An ophthalmologist named William Bates demonstrated back in the 1920s that most vision loss can be linked to muscle tension.  Two muscles wrap around the back of each eyeball, and four others help orient it for proper focus, just like a camera lens.  If the muscles stiffen from lack of motion or constant strain, they start failing to align your eyes properly.  Depending on which of the six fall out of kilter, the end result may be nearsightedness, farsightedness, presbyopia, and other conditions which develop when an eye's natural lens loses its ability to flex.

Dr. William Bates

Bates managed to cure his own faltering vision with exercises and other techniques he perfected over time. Unfortunately, his peers in the opthalmology profession rejected the notion of natural vision recovery, as they still do today. That's why most people have never heard of this pioneering doctor and his body of work.

According to Bates, the use of corrective lenses sidesteps the underlying pathology behind poor eyesight. Rather, glasses tend to accommodate the muscle tension and create more strain on the eyes. An optometrist must then prescribe stronger corrective lens, and a viscious cycle begins.

As impractical as it may sound to toss your eyeglasses by the wayside, the Bates Method has proven effective in many cases cited over the years by practitioners and their patients. Healing exercises include sunning, palming, edging, centralization and vision calisthenics. See links below or in the gray box above right for exercises, a glossary of eye ailments, and online resources.

Robert Michael Kaplan, author of Seeing Without Glasses, points out that despite their relatively small size, the eyes require a greater blood supply than most other organs in the body.  In fact, about half the cranial nerves that feed the nervous system are dedicated to vision.  Each time you yawn, for instance, the blood flowing through your brain gets a big dose of oxygen, at the same time relaxing your jaw to improve blood circulation. Yet many of us lose the natural tendency to yawn as we grow older and more rigid in how we carry ourselves around.

A lack of hydration in the body can hinder circulation. The blood becomes thicker and struggles to pass through vessels and capillaries. This hemoglobin highway that so many of us take for granted is how our nerves, muscle tissue and vital organs get nourished and rejuvenate. Staying hydrated each day helps your eyes receive sufficient blood flow from the cranial nerves.

Besides blood, the eyes receive a fluid known as aqueous humour, which rises up through the body from the digestive system. It's essential to keep the eyes lubricated with the fluid so they can rotate without friction. Blinking aids the cause by distributing the aqueous humour across the front of each eyeball. The average wink rate for humans is 5-7 times per minute, or once about every 10 seconds.  If your eyes feel dry much of the time, it could be that your eyelids simply need to pick up the pace. Getting a good night's sleep and wearing sunglasses when driving in sunlight will also protect the eyes from becoming too dry. Conversely, if the aqueous humour doesn't drain properly out of the eyes, a it may generate intraocular pressure and contribute to the onset of glaucoma. Here's a short article about the aqueous humour.

As part of the aging processs, another obstacle to vision is a reduction of natural anti-oxidants present in our bodies. Anti-oxidants help break down proteins and other chemicals that produce (among other things) some forms of cataracts . Natural vision therapists encourage their patients to include plenty of anti-oxidant food and supplements in the daily diet. More on cataracts below.

Of course, the most common reason for vision failure cited by Bates practitioners is simply staring too much, or fixating one's gaze on objects for long periods.  Locking the eyeballs into one place causes the six muscles of each one to tense up and atrophy. It's especially bad when you're staring at something close, since our eyeballs are designed to look somewhat far away in their normal relaxed state. Consequently, the muscles have to strain more in order to see objects that are nearby. Staring also taxes the center of the retina, which is responsible for assessing detail or clarity in an object, such as when you're reading words on a page. When this part of your vision becomes impaired, you may be diagnosed with macular degeneration.

from Wikipedia

Besides encouraging you to blink and yawn more, natural vision care includes gentle exercises to get your eyeballs to rove around more in their sockets. Think of your two orbs as fine-tuned cams, continously moving within their cavities, like ball bearings. This allows them to always be ready to adjust to different viewing angles. Motion is key to eye muscle limberness.

Bates discovered in his research that the best approach to looking at objects is to first trace their outer edges, then take in the inner details. This allows the brain to methodically build a picture of what you're seeing, while keeping the eye muscles in motion. Bates called this process Centralization.

Writing in Better Vision Now, a classic how-to guide first published in 1955, author Clara Hackett explained, “Nature, it would seem, meant vision to be a pinpointing process involving great mobility, with the eyes constantly shifting to take in large images in small, clear segments.”

Eliminating Vision Killers

Nowadays, eyestrain is frequently attributed to constant computer use and video screen fixation. A laptop of desktop computer generally restricts your vision to a single depth of field. This fixation diminishes your capacity to zoom in and out on any objects outside that range.  Eventually, your muscles lose their ability to place the eyeballs into the correct position for any object distance in question. This is a condition called Presbyopia. Eyesight starts to blur and corrective lenses (i.e. glasses) are prescribed by an optometrist. Rather than healing the muscle tension, however, this fix is a workaround of the underlying problem, like duct tape holding together a broken fender.

Another point to consider is that reading glasses are designed for a range of about 16 inches away from the eye. Computer screens generally sit 20 to 22 inches away. Thus, multi-focal lenses or single-vision computer glasses are a better choice than traditional readers. Moreover, what has been dubbed Computer Vision Syndrome is a secondary problem prompting opticians to measure for a third range of vision besides reading and distance.

Natural vision therapists recommend taking a break every fifteen minutes when working on a computer or watching TV. In the course of a work session, you can likewise turn away from the screen every few minutes gently flex your eye muscles by looking at more distant objects and in other directions, including up and down and side to side.

Ergonomics can likewise play a role in reducing eyestrain. A computer screen should be placed slightly lower than your eye level and not too close to your face. Moreover, you should always take the time to adjust the display features to achieve an optimum focus, brightness and contrast. At the very least, there should be an energy saver control or choice of electrical current frequency at 60 or 75 hertz. In most cases, it's best to select either the 60 hertz or energy saver mode. That limits the radiation emitted by the screen.

Next, examine the environment of your work space, eliminating any glare from windows, indoor lighting or other sources as much as possible. An adequately lit space is essential in preventing eyestrain. If you have older types of flourescent bulbs that dim or flicker overhead, they need to be replaced immediately with newer CFL lighting or more natural light (by changing your work location). Above all, never allow the computer screen or television to be the your only light source in the room. Always diffuse the screen light and TV radiation with additional lighting.

Outdoors, one of the main culprits behind vision loss is the glare from the sun reflected off metallic or other shiny surfaces. Whereas gazing at snow on a sunny day will cause temporary blindness in short order, sun glare from other sources is less obvious, so the harmful effects may go unnoticed for many years. Every time you drive down a road, for example, your eyes get bombarded with UV rays reflected off the metal surfaces of other vehicles. Your best defense is to wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection, including UVB rays when driving, riding a bike or otherwise traveling in areas where there's lots of metal or other objects that cause glare. (If you're a welder, be sure to use a professional helmet with advanced eye protection features.)

The danger of UV rays should, of course, not deter you from spending many hours each day outdoors enjoying the sunlight. Natural light is not just good for the eyes, it's an essential feature for maintaining eye health. Staying indoors too much can damage eyesight over time. Whenever possible, open blinds and curtains to let in a greater volume of light.

It's likewise helpful to set aside time each day to do something fun for your eyes. Visiting an arboretum, attending a baseball game or simply walking around your neighborhood park can go a long way to relaxing the all the muscles in the face and jaw. These outings also provide a moveable feast of light and color that makes you appreciate your vision more than you probably do now.

Besides making these changes and learning the Bates exercises, consider adopting a daily routine of whole-body progressive relaxation techniques - focussing on the shoulders, neck, face and scalp. This will improve blood flow to and around your head, at the same time removing tension and strain in your body that you may not even be be aware of. For more on progressive relaxation, see our article (PDF) on the subject.

Nutrition, Herbs and Chinese Medicine

Diet modifications can also enhance eyesight.  Vision therapist Lisette Scholl tells her patients to avoid too much heavy, artery-clogging foods like red meat, which can hinder blood flow to the cranial nerves.   In addition, the bioflavinoids found in the white rind pulp of citrus fruits are especially beneficial to the eyes, as are berries, avocados, carrots, spinach and leafy greens, berries, nuts, broccoli and pumpkin seeds. Yellow, red and green vegetables are recommended. Eggs are a good protein source for eye health. Diet recommendations for the prevention and treatment of cataracts and other problems can be found at

A tincture of bilberries sold in natural food stores has been shown in several studies to improve eyesight.  (Huckleberries are a close relative to this plant.) Small berries in general are a staple in the diets of birds, who are credited with possessing the sharpest vision of all species on our planet. Other western herbs recommended for healing eyesight include lutein, eyebright, gingko (a natural blood thinner) and grapeseed. To relieve soreness, you can steep eyebright leaves in hot water, then make compresses out of the cooled liquid and set them over your closed eyes.

Chinese medicine likewise proffers remedies for poor eyesight and acute disorders, such as conjunctivitis.  Several major organs are tied to eye health, including the kidneys, liver, urinary bladder and gall bladder. According to practicioners,a deficiency or imbalance in any of them can generate vision loss.

A typical diagnosis for poor vision may identify “liver heat” or “liver chi congestion" as the culprit. A damp spleen can also contribute to eye maladies, especially glaucoma. (A telltale symptom of dampness is loose stools.)

The liver can be injured by stress, inactivity, poor digestion, alcoholism, over-consumption of red meat, drug abuse or a damp climate.    Apples and other high-fiber foods are recommended for maintaining a healthy liver and calming an iritated gall bladder, which can cause headaches and impair vision. Consuming less coffee, alcohol, soda and ice cream should help alleviate this situation by making life a little easier on your kidnesy.

An 800-year-old patent remedy called Shiao Yao Wan is commonly prescribed for women under 50 with liver chi problems. (In the United States, this remedy is called the Free and Easy Wanderer pill.) Post-menopausal women are typically prescribed Du Huo Ji Sheng Wan (aka the Solitary Hermit pill). A visit to an acupuncturist who also uses Chinese herb medicine is necessary, however, to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Dr. Marc Grossman O.D. L.Ac.
Eye acupressure points. BL stands for the urinaty bladder, and GB for gall bladder. STT1 is called "Chengqi" and is the main point for all eye problems. To learn more about acupressure, click here.

Acupressure may be used to relieve soreness and discomfort around the eyes, as well as eyestrain-related headaches. A sparing amount of tiger balm rubbed on the temples and forehead may help ease tension. For acupressure points and a common massage technique used in China, follow the links provided above or at the end of this article.

Keep in mind that not every remedy works for every patient, since all of us have different constitutions, weights, diets and family medical histories. That's why it's important to talk to a doctor or other expert before starting any regimen of healing or exercise.

Cataract Remedies

Each year, millions of Americans undergo cataract surgery. Opthamologists insist this is the only real solution to the problem but Bates practicioners have historically disputed that claim. Cataracts may be congenital (present at birth), appear following an eye injury, or be age-related. Usually described as a cloudiness in the eyes' natural lenses, they may also take the form of a hard yellowish tint (bluish in pets). In the age-related type, proteins build up in the eye, then clump together to create this form of cataract, known as nuclear sclerosis.

As far back as the ancient Egyptians, surgery has been performed to remove cataracts. In those early days (and still today) a tiny incision was cut in the eyeball, then a hypodermic needle inserted behind the lens to draw out the substance causing the vision impairment. Today, a surgeon is more likely to replace the entire biological lens with a plastic manmade lens. Click here for a nice article introducing cataracts and conventional treatments.

In seeking out a less invasive alternative to surgery, there has been anecdotal evidence suggesting that cataracts might be dissolved with the help of N-acetylcarnosine (NAC) eye drops, an over-the-counter amino acid. A Russian institute conducting a trial of NAC eyedrops in 2000 found that this amino acid did indeed improve vision. Read more...

NAC eye drops penetrate the exterior part of the eye, then deliver anti-oxidant properties which break up the clumped proteins around the lens. And the longer the eyedrops were administered in the trial (up to 24 months), the better the results. Yet the U.S. FDA does not recognize NAC as a treatment for cataracts, and requires that any NAC remedies on the market today be mixed in with a common eye lubricant and sold as that product. The most popular brand of the drops is called Can-C, which has an apparent monopoly on the high grade, Japanese-produced amino acid used in the Russian study. For more info, read this article. You can also download an "e-book" prepared by Innovative Vision Products, the company that makes Can-C drops.

Note: Beware, another popular amino acid that goes by the same acronym of NAC is N-acetylcysteine. It's used by athletes as a nutritional supplement, and may have some benefit for eye health. A third substance, L-acetylcarnitine, with the acronym ALCAR, is sold in the form of powder and capsules. It's taken internally to enhance brain and muscle function. ALCAR may be helpful in treating vision problems as well. It should only be taken orally.

Moving onto to other natural remedies for cataracts, according to the American Optometric Association, studies have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. Sources of these two anti-oxidants include broccoli, spinach, kale and Brussel's sprouts. The 2010 book Prescription for Nutritional Healing recommends consuming high quantities of anti-oxidants, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin C with bioflavonoids and the amino acid glutathione. Eating a low-glycemic-load diet is also essential to vision health and preventing the development of cataracts.

The book also notes: "An article in Science magazine reported that the single greatest cause of cataracts is the body's inability to cope with food sugars. Lactoxe (milk sugar) was the worst offender, followed by refined sugar."

The herb Cineraria may also help treat catracts. One version of it is sold as a homeopathic remedy by Natural Opthalmics. Bilberry extract and ginkgo biloba are also commonly prescribed There's anecdotal, but unverified evidence that a white bentonite clay known as Pascalite may dissolve cataracts. This substance is found only in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming and evidence of its curative effects is sketchy at best. A paste is spread across the closed eyelids, brows and cheekbones. Click here for more info.

Here's an article listing various cataract remedies.

Still Time to Find a Room with a View

It's a shame the Bates method never caught on in western medicine.  Most conventional eye doctors were so opposed to the new approach that Dr. Bates was forced to resign his teaching post at a top New York university. Today, opthamologists persist in their claim that natural vision therapy makes no real impact on eyesight and corrective lenses themselves do no harm to the eyes.

Luckily, you can still find Bates specialists in most parts of the industrialized world. As a rule, they do not come cheap and are not covered by health insurance.  Many of these therapists allow their patients to continue wearing glasses, gradually reducing the strength of their prescriptions over time, rather than abandoning corrective lenses from the outset of treatment.  Recovery takes much longer, however, and lowering the strength of your lenses can itself cause eyestrain. 

Curiosity is a primary force driving our eyes to absorb all there is to see in the universe.  Perhaps the reason they fail as we get older has less to do with biology and more to do with a loss of interest in the view that's out there. It could be that simply immersing yourself in a more visually stimulating landscape can jumpstart corrective vision better than any $300 pair of designer spectacles. Of course, you'll never know until you try...

Disclaimer: Always check with your doctor or other health care provider before changing your eyeglass prescription or undertaking any new vision regiment or diet modification.

Note: This article was first published in 2008.


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