It’s long been said that the eyes are windows to the soul, but there has been chatter about the eyes holding information about the brain, as well. Dorothy Hitchmoth, OD, FAAO, wrote a blog about this connection to inform ODs about what they can do to help their patients’ brains, specifically with concussions. According to NIH researchers, “the retina is actually a piece of the brain that has grown into the eye and processes neural signals when it detects light. In fact, exams of the optic nerve have given insights into Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, neuromyelitis optica, glaucoma, and Parkinson’s.
Measuring Eye and Brain Health
Using measuring methods like OCT, visual evoked potential (VEP), pupillography, and macular pigment optical density (MPOD), ODs can determine their patients’ eye and brain health. Hitchmoth explains that examining the retina, lens, and optic nerve can give practitioners an idea of how their patient’s brain is functioning. MPOD measurement, for example, measures how dense the protective macular pigment is and indicates a patient’s nutrition levels. More specifically, it gives eye care professionals an idea of a patients’ zeaxanthin and lutein intake.
The eyes and brain have the highest concentration of zeaxanthin and lutein in the body. Other nutrients that help support both eye and brain health include:
- Omega-3s (EPA/DHA)
- Alpha lipoic acid
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
Nutrition’s Role in the Eyes and Brain
Dr. Hitchmoth agrees that inflammation, oxidative stress, and interruption of the blood barrier are implicated in eye health concerns accompanying aging and high blood glucose levels. Other research shows that these issues are also implicated in concussions. Boosting nutrition, whether dietary or supplemented, can help preemptively protect patients from vision-threatening concerns and possibly protect cognitive abilities.
There’s really nothing to lose. Dr. Hitchmoth says there is “little risk in preparing [patients] for a lifetime of good health habits with the presumption that your good advice may help thwart some of the effect of brain injury as well as help in recovery.” As part of a holistic concussion prevention program at the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Joe Clark devised a program that betters athletes’ peripheral vision, reaction time, and hand-eye coordination, resulting in a drop in concussions. Clinical researched links optimal MPOD with improved visual function, neural processing speeds and reaction time. Patients can improve MPOD by supplementing with 8 mg of zeaxanthin or more.
In Hitchmoth’s mind, eye care professionals have the opportunity to impact concussion outcomes. ODs should be part of the concussion care team because “they’re experts in the measurement of eye-brain dysfunction; they provide neuro-ocular rehabilitation to patients with brain injury; and they are seasoned purveyors of risk who regularly give health and medical advice to patients.” Hitchmoth hopes that an optometric visit will soon be a routine part of pre-concussion prevention programs.