At Envision Optical, our philosophy is prevention is the best approach where possible to all eye conditions. Within our 4 optometrist clinics across the Gold Coast and Tweed Heads, we see many patients with serious eye diseases including glaucoma, macular degeneration, dry eyes and cataracts. There is a growing body of evidence that nutrition plays an important role in the prevention and management of these conditions. In the case of glaucoma, we were very interested to see recent preliminary research in the journal Science indicating that Vitamin B3 could have a significant role in the prevention of glaucoma. The following is a summary of the findings:
“In mice genetically predisposed to glaucoma, vitamin B3 added to drinking water is effective at preventing the disease, a US research team led by Jackson Laboratory (JAX) Professor and Howard Hughes Medical Investigator Simon W.M. John reports in the journal Science.
The vitamin administration was surprisingly effective, eliminating the vast majority of age-related molecular changes and providing a remarkably robust protection against glaucoma. It offers promise for developing inexpensive and safe treatments for glaucoma patients.
“We wanted to identify key age-related susceptibility factors that change with age in the eye,” John says, “and that therefore increase vulnerability to disease and in particular neuronal disease.” By understanding general age-related mechanism, there is the potential to develop new interventions to generally protect from common age-related disease processes in many people. Conducting a variety of genomic, metabolic, neurobiological and other tests in mice susceptible to inherited glaucoma, compared to control mice, the researchers discovered that NAD, a molecule vital to energy metabolism in neurons and other cells, declines with age.
“There’s an analogy with an old motorbike,” John says. “It runs just fine, but little things get less reliable with age. One day you stress it: you drive it up a steep hill or you go on really long journey and you get in trouble. It’s less reliable than a new bike and it’s going to fail with a higher frequency than that new bike.”
The decrease in NAD levels reduces the reliability of neurons’ energy metabolism, especially under stress such as increased intraocular pressure. “Like taking that big hill on your old bike, some things are going to fail more often,” John says. “The amount of failure will increase over time, resulting in more damage and disease progression.”
In essence, the treatments of vitamin B3 (nicotinamide, an amide form of vitamin B3, also called niacinamide) boosted the metabolic reliability of aging retinal ganglion cells, keeping them healthier for longer. “Because these cells are still healthy, and still metabolically robust,” says JAX Postdoctoral Associate Pete Williams, first author of the study, “even when high intraocular pressure turns on, they better resist damaging processes.”
The researchers also found that a single gene-therapy application of Nmnat1 (the gene for an enzyme that makes NAD from nicotinamide) prevented glaucoma from developing in this mouse model. “It can be a problem for patients, especially the elderly, to take their drugs every day and in the correct dose,” Williams says. “So gene therapy could be a one-shot, protective treatment.” He notes that gene therapies, through injections into the eye, have been approved for a handful of very rare, human genetic eye disorders, and their demonstration of an important age-dependent factor may enable gene therapy for more common eye disease.
John says that the team is pursuing clinical partnerships to begin the process of testing the effectiveness of vitamin B3 treatment in glaucoma patients. They are also exploring potential applications for the treatment in other diseases involving neurodegeneration.”
This is a fascinating pilot study and we look forward to a larger investigation in this area. Ginkgo Biloba and Pycnogenol have been shown to have neuroprotective and pressure lowering effects respectively, so there are growing options for patients to complement their glaucoma medications with nutritional supplements to maximize their eye health and help prevent progression of the disease.