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Thin Retinas & Metabolites

Posted by Ilena Di Toro | Posted on May 28, 2024

When it comes to glaucoma, early detection leads to early treatment, and the sooner treatment is started, the greater the likelihood that vision can be preserved. The usual way that glaucoma is detected is by measuring pressure inside the eye. High pressure is a sign of increased glaucoma risk and it is the only symptom of the disease that can be modified.

Yet, there are those who develop glaucoma and have normal eye pressure. This emphasizes the need for other means of detection, so that if treatment is needed, it can start sooner. Two research projects at the National Eye Institute (NEI) seeks to learn more about glaucoma in order to improve outcomes for those with the disease.

Early Detection Via Thin Retinas
One study published in the British Medical Journal Open Ophthalmology indicates that low density of pigment in the macula is associated with thinning the retina and that could serve as an early warning sign of glaucoma. The findings are based studying 379 women over the course of 15 years.

This study evaluated the relationship between the pigment optical density of the macula and the thickness of the retina, which were both measured at baseline among the subjects. Fifteen years later, 32 women developed glaucoma. In comparison with the women who did not develop glaucoma, the ones who did were older and more likely to have low macular pigment density at the baseline and thinner retinal layers in the macula that match the areas affected by glaucoma.

In addition, the results suggest that adding foods to one’s diet that are sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, such leafy green vegetables and eggs, might prevent or slow the progression of glaucoma. These foods contain carotenoids, which protect the retina by absorbing light and preventing it from scattering in the eye and causing damage from light exposure. Also, carotenoids are antioxidants that protect against oxidative stress.

The results of this study confirm the need for clinical trials to learn whether carotenoid intake or the use of supplements might be effective in preventing the development of glaucoma or its progression.

Metabolites Can Predict The Development of Glaucoma
In case you didn’t know, more than 120 genetic factors are linked to glaucoma. Yet, these genes are responsible for less than 10 percent of glaucoma cases. So, what can be done to detect the disease before it starts? In addition to studying the retina, scientists are looking at the metabolites, molecules produced by metabolism, to see what clues they hold. Identifying people who are at risk of developing glaucoma based on their metabolic profile may lead to catching the disease before vision loss occurs.

Metabolites are currently being used as biomarkers to assess disease risk or diagnose disease. For example, doctors currently use the comprehensive metabolic blood panel to measure levels of metabolites like glucose or calcium, in the blood. Research done at the Icahn School of Medicine looked at over 300 metabolites to learn about their relation to glaucoma.

The researchers examined blood frozen from two long-term studies: the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals’ Follow Up Study. They compared approximately 600 subjects who developed glaucoma after enrolling in the studies to a group of subjects who didn’t. The subjects who developed glaucoma did so 10 years after the initial blood draw for the studies.

What the researchers found was a strong association between glaucoma and two kinds of lipids: triglycerides and diglycerides. Persons with high triglycerides and diglycerides are more likely to develop glaucoma. Not only that, the association was strongest in a type of glaucoma that causes early loss of central vision.

Thankfully treatments to control high triglycerides already exist, such as statin drugs. Studies that have looked at statin use and glaucoma have mixed results. With additional research, it may possible to find out which subtypes of glaucoma can be controlled with statins. Research can also uncover if existing drugs can prevent glaucoma in the first place.

Associations between health status and metabolism have been found with kidney disease, cancer, pregnancy complications and type 2 diabetes and this research adds to the evidence that links health status to metabolism.

What both of these studies show is that it might be possible to prevent glaucoma based on information from biomarkers or metabolites. That’s better than a pound of cure.


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