Have you ever considered a connection between meditation and eye health? Practiced for over 5,000 years in ancient India, meditation and even yoga are practices which still hold some secrets for physicians of today. However, a recent study suggested that patients diagnosed with primary open angle glaucoma showed “significant improvement” in both general and eye health after participating in a mindful meditation program focused on breathing exercises, as compared to a control group.
Why is this noteworthy? Glaucoma affects nearly 70 million people and remains the leading cause of blindness across the entire world. Reducing the IOP (intraocular pressure) is the only proven approach to treating glaucoma, and is typically achieved with eye drops, laser treatment or surgery. This means that lowering the IOP is key to preventing further damage to the optic nerve.
Into this situation has come the aforementioned study, which was the first of its kind to show that meditation can indeed lower intraocular pressure in patients with glaucoma, while improving their quality of life by lowering stress hormones. This further suggests that mental stress may be a contributing factor when it comes to glaucoma, with analysts who were involved with the study believing this holistic approach to managing glaucoma can also improve the overall wellbeing of these patients.
With patients’ outcomes improving as IOP is reduced, further damage to the optic nerve is possibly achieved, and by employing a meditation approach, many experts believe there will be a reduced need for medications – thus helping reduce side effects and costs to the patient and healthcare/eye care system. Additionally, meditation has the ability to help patients cope much more successfully with the psychological burden caused by the blinding disorder.
The study’s lead eye doctor investigator, Tanuj Dada, MD of the Dr. Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, was quoted as saying, “We know that chronic stress can lead to elevation of blood pressure, but seldom does an eye doctor think about its known effect on the eye by provoking IOP. This is the first study showing that a relaxation program using meditation can lower IOP in glaucoma patients while improving their quality of life by lowering stress hormones like cortisol; indeed, mindfulness meditation is easy to do, even by patients who are bedridden or elderly.”
Although further research is still required to explore the IOP-lowering benefits of meditation, experts are looking forward to learning whether this 5,000-year-old ancient practice could be applied to modern medicine to reduce stress hormone release by relaxation – in turn helping balance the mind-body relationship.