Glaucoma is the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness, with an estimated 70 million people affected. In an exciting breakthrough, scientists have shown that a form of Vitamin B3 may protect eyesight from this disease.
The team of US researchers published their findings in Science in February this year. By supplementing the diets of young glaucoma-prone mice with a form of Vitamin B3 (nicotinamide), early signs of the disease were prevented.
The vitamin treatment was also shown to stop further progression of glaucoma in older mice who had already developed the disease. This is very exciting news and just in time for Glaucoma Awareness Week, which is 12-18th March 2017.
How does vitamin B3 work to prevent onset and progression of glaucoma?
Your retina (the back of your eye) has a layer of ganglion cells that take information about what you see from the rods and cones to the brain. If you have glaucoma, these ganglion cells progressively die off and are not replaced – you only get one set for life. Age is the biggest risk factor for developing the disease and evidence is emerging that these special retinal cells become weakened with age and therefore more prone to glaucoma.
Vitamin B3 treatments (nicotinamide, an amide form of vitamin B3) has been shown to strengthen the ageing retinal ganglion cells, keeping them healthier for longer. They can then stand up the effects of aging and raised pressure in the eye and they don’t die off.
Australian researchers comment on latest glaucoma findings
In the February 2017 issue of Science, Professor Ian Trounce of the Centre of Eye Research Australia (CERA), and glaucoma specialist (and managing director of CERA), Jonathan Crowston, published a perspective on these findings. While they were very excited about the potential of these findings for the human eye, they cautioned against rushing out to buy vitamin B3 until human studies have been properly carried out.
While the mice studies showed no toxic effects of taking high doses of nicotinamide, equivalent doses will need to be tested on humans to ensure there are no side effects. High doses of vitamin B3 (niacin) are known to cause skin rashes, and while the amide form of the vitamin doesn’t appear toxic at currently recommended levels, the effect of higher doses will need further study.
Professor Trounce said that while high doses shouldn’t be taken at this stage, there was nothing to stop people from continuing to take multivitamins containing nicotinamide, or from eating a diet rich in vitamin B3.
What foods are a good source of Vitamin B3?
Try including more of these foods in your diet to boost vitamin B3 intake:
- Cooked chicken or turkey breast
- Cooked tuna or salmon
- Lean pork chops
- Green peas
- Grass-fed beef
- Lambs liver
- Sunflower seeds
- Tomatoes and capsicums
- Brown rice
Family history of glaucoma?
Regular eye examination can help to identify people at risk of developing the disease.