Lifestyle and glaucoma risk

New evidence from novel study on mice presented at ICO Conference

Priscilla Lynch

Posted: Thursday, February 1, 2018

Exercise and a healthy lifestyle could have a protective effect against glaucoma, according to a presentation to the Irish College of Ophthalmologists 2017 Annual Conference in Cavan, Ireland.

New breakthroughs in the battle to protect the optic against glaucoma were presented by internationally renowned glaucoma specialist Prof Jonathan Crowston MD, Head of Ophthalmology at the University of Melbourne and Managing Director at the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA).

He discussed new evidence from a novel study on mice relating to the impact of lifestyle on glaucoma risk.

“Our research is looking at new treatments to make the optic nerve more robust and to protect it against elevated eye pressure. We have recently discovered that exercise may play a key role in protecting this nerve. Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the nerve cells that transmit the visual message from the retina to the brain, become increasingly vulnerable to injury with advancing age. While age was traditionally thought to be a non-modifiable risk factor for disease, emerging evidence suggests this may not be the case. We found that this vulnerability with advancing age in mice can be strongly modified by exercise in the form of daily swimming.

“We found that exercise promoted functional recovery and reduced RGC loss when initiated after an acute injury induced by elevation of intraocular pressure. This age-related vulnerability was almost completely reversed by exercising.

We found that exercise promoted functional recovery and reduced RGC loss

“We are beginning to unlock some of the mechanisms whereby exercise promotes RGC recovery but we don’t know whether exercise will be as effective in humans. We are keen to see that human tests are done as well, and they are not easy to do – but it is something that I have discussed with my patients and comes at very little cost, and I would strongly encourage people to consider it as it confers many benefits to other parts of the body as well.”

He also highlighted the importance of getting your eyes properly checked, especially if you have a family history of glaucoma. Prof Crowston stressed that a comprehensive eye test where the optic nerve is examined is crucial, as 80-90% of sufferers have no easily recognisable symptoms and the disease may occur even in the absence of elevate eye pressure.

“For most types of glaucoma, you can have moderate to advanced disease and still not be aware you have it. The astounding fact is our brains are very good at filling in the picture, even when a substantial portion of your visual field is lost.”

Jonathan Crowston: