The ketogenic diet has dozens of scientifically-proven benefits.
By increasing ketone production, enhancing fat-burning, and reducing blood sugar and insulin resistance, going keto can protect your brain, reduce your risk of dementia, help you lose weight, decrease your risk of cancer and heart disease, and prevent type 2 diabetes[*][*][*][*][*][*][*].
But most exciting of all, there are many more potential benefits awaiting discovery. Scientific interest in the keto diet is relatively recent, with the number of annual studies doubling in the past five years.
In this article, you’ll learn about a groundbreaking study that suggests the ketogenic diet may help preserve your vision, and that it could prevent or reverse glaucoma.
In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, a team led by Dr. Denise Inman at the Northeast Ohio Medical University set out to discover the effects of the ketogenic diet on mice with glaucoma[*].
The researchers had already observed that in humans and mice with glaucoma, the optic nerve tended to be metabolically stressed. In other words, it wasn’t getting enough energy to do its job, which was leading to vision problems.
Along with that observation, they knew that the keto diet was effective at making energy available to the brain and nervous system, that it had protective effects in conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, and that it could potentially help repair damage to cells.
The team selected a special breed of mice known to develop glaucoma. The mice ate a “regular” (high-carb) diet for the first nine months before they were switched to a keto diet of approximately 10% protein and 90% fat. The scientists also measured the blood ketone levels of the mice to ensure the animals were in ketosis.
So What Happened When the Mice Went Keto?
After eight weeks of keto, the researchers sacrificed the mice to examine the structure and function of their eyes and optic nerves. Here’s what they found:
- The delicate cells of the optic nerve did not degenerate and continued to send signals to the brain.
- There was a significant antioxidant effect from keto that helped protect cells of the eye and optic nerve.
- Thanks to higher levels of the MCT (monocarboxylate transporter) energy transporter, the mouse eyes and optic nerves had more energy available to do their job.
- The keto mice developed more mitochondria (the “powerhouses of the cell” that produce energy).
Here’s also another critical aspect of the study: the scientists chose to switch the mice to the ketogenic diet at nine months old because these mice typically experience vision loss around the tenth month of life.
That means these remarkable results occurred “on the cusp of significant glaucoma progression,” to quote the study authors.
The results of the 2018 Journal of Neuroscience study are a big deal because glaucoma is a major problem for people who have it.
Glaucoma is a group of related eye diseases, all of which cause damage to the optic nerve and result in permanent loss of vision.
The most common type of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma, develops gradually and without pain.
Closed-angle glaucoma, another form of glaucoma, can present gradually or suddenly. Sudden closed-angle glaucoma can involve eye pain, blurred vision, eye redness, and nausea.
If left untreated, all types of glaucoma lead to blindness.
Causes of Glaucoma
Ocular hypertension, meaning high levels of pressure within the eye, is the leading risk factor for glaucoma. However, one study found that up to half of some groups of people with glaucoma don’t have elevated intraocular pressure[*].
Having a family history or sibling with glaucoma can also increase your risk, but genes don’t fully explain glaucoma, either.
As with many diseases, the risk factors (like high intraocular pressure, or a family history of the disease) aren’t the same thing as the mechanisms or causes of glaucoma.
Another reason the 2018 Journal of Neuroscience study led by Dr. Inman is notable is that it identified the following factors that contribute to the development of glaucoma:
- Energy transporters stop working properly
- Reduced energy availability leads to degradation of cells in the eye and optic nerve
- Glycolytic (sugar) metabolism leads to oxidative stress
- Damage from oxidative stress causes mitochondria to malfunction, reducing available energy further
As the study authors pointed out, there is a link between diabetes and glaucoma. Additionally, people who take metformin (a diabetes drug that mimics fasting or calorie restriction) are at a lower risk of glaucoma.
From these observations as well as the study findings, you can deduce that the keto diet addresses several key causes of glaucoma.
While there aren’t any human studies confirming the findings of Dr. Inman and her team (yet), the researchers did a fantastic job exploring the potential benefits of keto for glaucoma and vision loss.
They moved the paradigm forward by showing that metabolic issues may cause glaucoma, and that the keto diet might prevent or even reverse this eye disease through multiple pathways.
The scientists who performed this study did so under an NIH grant. Thanks to their findings, in the future, it’s highly likely other researchers will be attracted to explore the effects of keto on glaucoma in humans (and the grant money can’t hurt, either).
In the meantime, rather than waiting for more studies, you can go ahead and begin the keto diet on your own to learn its remarkable effects firsthand.