I was born with very poor eyesight and at the age of 3, I put on my
first pair of glasses. Throughout my childhood I assumed, as did my
doctors, that my eyesight was untreatable. The glasses simply
became a part of my body–first thing on in the morning, last thing
off at night.
My perspective changed when I was diagnosed in my teens with a
chronic degenerative bone disorder. Since conventional medicine had
nothing to offer at the time, I sought out other methods of
healing: yoga, vitamins and minerals, herbs, massage, Rolfing,
shiatsu, and chiropractic adjustments. I also tried therapeutic
diets and experimented with natural healing methods. As I began to
rebuild my body, I noticed that my vision improved as well–all
with no targeted effort. By restoring my overall health and
reducing toxicity, I gave my body more resources to heal eye
By the time I reached my early 20s, my vision had improved
enough for me to function without glasses. Though my sight was not
perfect, it was adequate to recognize faces, read, and drive. My
eyesight has continued to improve, and I’ve now been free of
glasses for more than 20 years.
Approaching vision problems without technological assistance is
not common. Medical treatments are, frankly, effective and easy.
When you can just wear glasses, why go through laborious dietary
changes and herb regimens? If outpatient surgery can remove your
cataracts in a day, why wait longer?
Most people readily seek a doctor’s intervention, but others
have found that restoring the eyes from within is worth the effort.
In addition to being windows of souls, eyes are the mirrors of our
bodies’ health. The challenge is to stick with the program. The eye
is complicated, and eye healing, particularly vision improvement,
requires extra patience–compared with, say, how quickly an ulcer
responds to cabbage juice, or joint inflammation to turmeric.
You can’t just treat eyes; you also must address the skin and
liver. These organs not only share nutritional requirements, they
also degenerate consistently in order. Eye function is the first to
go, then the skin, and finally the liver. When health deteriorates,
the body is more willing to ‘part with’ functions or structures not
critical to survival. Eyesight is a luxury compared to the
detoxification functions of the skin and liver. To be successful in
treating the eyes, we therefore must backtrack, first treating the
liver, then the skin.
My clinical experience shows that eyebright (Euphrasia
stricta) is a plant whose folkloric reputation outstrips its
actual usefulness. Despite its name and history of use for the
eyes, it’s not effective, and there are certainly substances that
produce more significant and consistent results. Eyebright is
better as an upper respiratory tea than it is as an eye tonic.
The following herbs are ones that have proven useful as
long-term tonics and nutrients for eye health. They boast
antioxidant properties; promote better, stronger circulation; and
support waste elimination, particularly liver function, to directly
or indirectly benefit your eyes.
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
Extract of bilberry contains powerful antioxidants that can
prevent the free-radical damage that weakens cells and capillaries
and makes them less flexible. This is particularly important
because the retina is one of the most capillary-rich parts of the
body. Bilberry is especially noted for improving night vision and
increasing function of the color-sensing cones of the eye,
improving image brightness and increasing visual acuity.
Robert Abel, M.D., a conventional ophthalmologist turned
holistic and author of The Eye Care Revolution (Kensington,
1999), recommends bilberry for just about all things ocular,
particularly glaucoma. For general eye benefit, take bilberry
extract standardized to contain 25 percent anthocyanosides in doses
of 60 to 120 mg daily, or up to 240 to 480 mg per day.
Ginkgo biloba extract (50:1, 24 percent flavone glycosides) is
known to improve and prevent cerebrovascular insufficiencies and
decreased cognitive function associated with aging. Ginkgo is also
excellent for increasing blood flow to the eyes.
Like bilberry, ginkgo contains antioxidant compounds that
protect cell membranes and venous integrity, improving their
flexibility as well as resistance to free-radical damage. Ginkgo
benefits vision (hearing, too) by allowing more blood, oxygen, and
nourishment to be delivered to the head. Take ginkgo in doses of
120 mg daily, although some studies have used doses of 240 mg or
more, even recently as much as 960 mg daily.
Triphala, the combination of amla (Emblica officinalis),
haritaki (Terminalia chebula), and bibitaki (Terminalia
belerica), ranks as the premier general tonic of ayurveda, a
5,000-year-old Indian tradition of healing. Triphala nourishes the
eyeball and strengthens the nerves and other tissues. Take 500 mg
to 2 grams per day as a general tonic, possibly for a lifetime.
Amla is a strong rejuvenative and the most frequently used
cataract medicine. It is a potent inhibitor of free radicals, which
are one cause of cataracts. The fruit is the richest known source
of naturally occurring vitamin C (which accounts for its
antioxidant effects), containing 20 times more vitamin C than
orange juice, at 600 mg per 100 grams. Haritaki, called the ‘king
of medicines’ in Tibetan medicine, nourishes the nervous system and
promotes vision. Bibitaki, a myrobalan fruit, regulates lipids in
the body. Like amla and haritaki, which are also myrobalans, it
improves the vision.
Add one tablespoon of triphala powder to 10 ounces of water.
Cover the mixture and let it sit for 12 hours. Filter and apply to
eyes with an eye dropper or an eye cup.
Start with these recommendations, and visit a holistic eye
doctor or herbalist for more information, especially if you need to
target specific problems like cataracts, vitreous floaters, macular
degeneration, or glaucoma. Healing the eyes from within takes more
effort than relying on external aids, but you’ll soon see what
you’ve been missing.
Cry Me a River–of Healthy Tears
Contrary to popular wisdom, the common problem of ‘dry eye’ is
not a lack of tears, but tears that have poor chemistry or are too
thin and dry. They lack, for some reason, fats and minerals that
make them viscous. To combat this problem, Dr. George Dever, O.D.,
a Seattle-based herbalist and an optometric physician for 45 years,
suggests drinking more water and not avoiding oils too
A low-fat diet is fine, but he believes that some people are
taking ‘nonfat’ too literally. Small amounts of fats in the diet
are important for health: No less than 10 percent of total calories
should come from fat; 20 to 25 percent is adequate for disease
prevention. In particular, favor omega-3 oils and monounsaturates
(such as olive oil). Supplements of flaxseed oil, black currant
oil, and cod liver oils have all produced dramatic results in
patients with dry eye.
–Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa is a certified
nutritionist (C.N.) and is American Herbalist Guild (A.H.G.)
certified. From The Herb Quarterly (Spring 2000). Subscriptions:
$24/yr. (4 issues) from Box 689, San Anselmo, CA 94979.