Patients with primary open angle glaucoma showed substantial improvements in both ocular and general health after participating in mindfulness meditation.
The All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India, conducted a landmark study now published in the Journal of Glaucoma, official journal of the World Glaucoma Association. Whereby individuals suffering with primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) demonstrated positive improvements when focusing on breathing and meditation compared to the control group that did not participate.
Meditation and primary open angle glaucoma
Affecting the lives of nearly 70 million people, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness globally.
Lowering of high intraocular pressure (IOP) is the only proven therapy, which is currently achieved with eye drops, laser therapy or surgery. However, such therapies are expensive and have ocular and systemic side effects that can adversely affect the health-related quality of life of glaucoma patients. Patients’ outcomes improve as IOP is reduced, which helps to prevent further damage to the optic nerve.
Lead investigator Tanuj Dada, MD, from the Dr. Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences, India, explained: “We know that chronic stress can lead to elevation of blood pressure (systemic hypertension), but seldom think about its known effect on the eye by provoking high intraocular pressure (IOP).
“This is the first study showing that a relaxation program with meditation can lower IOP in glaucoma patients and improve their quality of life by lowering stress hormones like cortisol. Mindfulness meditation is easy to do, even by patients who are elderly and bedridden.”
By employing a meditation approach, the need for medications is reduced, therefore helping to reduce side effects and costs to the patient suffering with primary open angle glaucoma and also the healthcare system.
Harnessing the power of the brain
Moreover, meditation reduces stress hormones, which improves patients’ quality of life. Therefore, enabling patients to cope much more successfully with the psychological burden caused by this primary open angle glaucoma.
“Our findings open an exciting avenue of harnessing the power of the brain to cure ailments of the human body.” Explained study co-author Muneeb Faiq, PhD, All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
“A majority of human diseases have an underlying psychological component, and it is the psychology of the patient that meditation targets. Reducing stress hormone levels with evidence-based methods can impact many organs in the body, including the eyes.”
Could mental health be a cause of primary open angle glaucoma?
Co-investigator Bernhard Sabel, PhD from the Institute of Medical Psychology, Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg, Germany, added: “The study suggests that mental stress may be one of the main causal factors for glaucoma, and using this ancient meditation technique to reduce stress is a powerful tool to treat the patient as a whole and not just the eye, a holistic approach to manage the disease and also improve overall patient well-being.”
Additionally, meditation positively influenced other indicators, such as reduced cortisol levels (stress hormone), increases in beta-endorphins and brain-derived neurotrophic factors and reduced oxidative stress and pro-inflammatory markers (interleukins).
Faiq concludes: “More research is now needed to explore the exciting prospect of whether meditation can also serve to reduce or stop the progression of vision loss or even achieve vision restoration.”