I had a patient in the last year that suffered a severe bout with a herniated disc. One of the natural protocols that acts nicely to tamp down all that inflammatory painful storm inside the disc is high dose glucosamine added to a few other disc healing nutrients. About a month later this patient went in for their regular eye visit to their ophthalmologist. The ophthalmologist sat back and said, “Now, don’t freak out, but I have to tell you that you have glaucoma.” Were the two things, glucosamine supplementation and the onset of this eye disease, glaucoma, related? Read on.
Glaucoma is a series of eye diseases that can steel vision. This can occur with elevated pressure inside the eye (called intraocular pressure) and from damage to the optic nerve and parts of the brain linked with vision.
Could the nutrients that this patient took to help with their disc disease, have injured their eyes and contributed to their eye disease?
A very smart eye doctor, Dr. E. H. Jaccoma, had a similar situation. Dr. Jaccoma had a close family member that looked like they were at risk for glaucoma, called a high-risk glaucoma situation, so he was closely monitoring him. One day the eye pressure tested as sky high. The doctor wisely asked the patient if they had been doing anything differently. Yes. The patient had started to take glucosamine supplements for arthritis pain. Yikes.
Dr. Jaccoma made a speculative connection between the glaucoma and the nutrient and recommended that they stop taking it and continue to follow the eye pressures. When the supplement was stopped, the eye pressures returned to baseline levels.
This birthed a study.
Glucosamine + Glaucoma Study
This study was small, but still, meaningful. Investigators studied 6 men and 11 women, with a mean age of 76 years, who had a history of glaucoma and also were taking glucosamine supplementation. The study showed that starting glucosamine supplementation elevated eye pressure, in these patients (ones who already had the disease) and the eye pressure would also lower when glucosamine supplementation was stopped.
This study showed a reversible effect, meaning that when glucosamine supplementation was stopped, the spike of high pressures came down. However, the, author’s state, the possibility of permanent damage from ongoing use of glucosamine supplementation couldn’t be ruled out. JAMA Ophthalmolology 2013
As we age and our joints hurt, many of us look to glucosamine
Glucosamine supplements are a billion dollar business. With the baby boomer generation growing, and understandably looking for natural ways to heal arthritis pain, are they putting their eyes at risk?
Dr. Jaccoma, who is also director of Southern Maine Eye Associates in Sanford and of New England Dry Eye Center in Kennebunk, Maine, spoke about some concerns. He wondered if some people end up with glaucomatous damage that could have been prevented in the first place. And then, they go on to life long medication or treatments, like having laser and other surgical interventions, for a disease that might have been avoided in the first place.
If taking glucosamine, get your eyes checked
Dr. Jaccoma recommends that at the very least, people at risk for glaucoma have their IOP more closely monitored during glucosamine supplementation. I would say consider other ways to treat those aches and pains (see the end of this article for some ideas).
But it also makes one wonder? What other ‘healthy’ natural supplements might we be taking that we think are ‘good for the gander’, but turn out to be NOT good for the eyes? Our eyes, it turns out, especially as we age, are very sensitive to a large range of things we are just beginning to appreciate.
Dr. Jaccoma suggests that the response to glucosamine on the eyes is very similar to what medicine has observed with steroids. The average patient will have no problem with an increase in inner eye pressure with some steroid sue, but that there is a higher risk smaller group who just have more sensitive optic and brain visual tissues.
The large National Institutes of Health study on glucosamine suggested that the majority of folks don’t get much pain relief from glucosamine, just a small subset group does. Given that data, glucosamine may not be the best supplement for aging folks to take for their muscle/joint aches and pains.
Alternative Muscle/Joint Pain Helpful Tricks
Our eyes are precious. There is no known cure for glaucoma (yet). Whatever we can do to decrease our risk of the disease or of blindness; is crucial. So, if you suffer with joints aches, identify and avoid food hypersensitivities, use high dose fish oil and try to make sure you absorb it, and give high dose niacinamide a 6 week trial (Google the work of Dr. Kaufman and this nutrient for joint pain).
If you’re a boomer, high dose glucosamine may not be an eye-safe way to go anymore. Darn! Another one bites the dust!