Can You Treat Optic Nerve Damage With Vitamins?

The optic nerve carries electrical impulses from the retina at the back of the eye to your brain for processing. Any disorder that damages the optic nerve can cause permanent vision loss. Certain vitamins may help treat optic nerve disorders. Because optic nerve damage has serious consequences, do not take vitamins to treat or prevent optic nerve problems without discussing their use with your doctor first.

Causes

Glaucoma, a rise in the intraocular pressure of the eye, can compress the optic nerve, resulting in decreased signal transmission and vision loss. In some people, glaucoma can occur even when their intraocular pressure is normal. Optic neuritis causes inflammation of the optic nerve, while ischemic optic neuropathy occurs when blood flow through the artery to the optic nerve decreases. Optic atrophy can occur from a number of conditions, including diabetes or trauma.

Vitamin Types

Vitamin B-12 can benefit some people with glaucoma and can also help people with severely limited diets who suffer optic nerve damage from B-12 deficiency. Vitamin E and folic acid, part of the B-vitamin complex, may also benefit people with glaucoma. Vitamin C showed positive results in patients with optic neuritis in one study.

Study Results

A 1992 study of 28 Japanese patients with glaucoma found that giving them 1,500 micrograms of vitamin B-12 daily for five years resulted in less peripheral vision loss and more stable visual acuity and intraocular pressure compared with a control group. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia reported on three autistic boys with severely limited diets who developed vision problems from B-12 deficiency whose symptoms improved when given B-12 supplements. A Kitasato University School of Medicine study of 25 patients with optic neuritis found that taking both oral B-12 and high-dose intravenous vitamin C led to significant vision improvement. A 1998 study using fish oil high in DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid; vitamin E; and vitamin B-complex in 30 patients found that the combination widened the visual field within 90 days.

Risks

Some drugs interfere with the absorption of vitamin B-12, including metformin, a diabetic medication; drugs used to treat peptic ulcers; and chloramphenicol, an antibiotic. High doses of B-12 do not appear to have any serious side effects, the Office of Dietary Supplements says. Very high doses of vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin, may cause abdominal discomfort or diarrhea. Vitamin E can increase bleeding in people taking blood thinners or those who have clotting disorders.

Caveat

Most vitamin treatments for optic nerve disorders have shown benefits in only a few small studies. Do not rely on vitamin treatment alone for optic nerve disorders. Talk with your doctor about taking them as adjunct medications with other treatments.

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