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eye chartA few years ago, I heard about a study of Inuit (often called Eskimos) and their eyesight.  It was observed that once compulsory education was introduced, there was an immediate, dramatic increase (from 2% to 50%) in myopia - nearsightedness.  The same thing was observed in fishing villages in Hong Kong.  Wait.  Isn't it hereditary?

I'm way blind.  HUGE coke bottle glasses until they invented a way to make them thinner.  I *hate* being myopic.  I hate that w/o my glasses/contacts I can't read standard text unless it's, quite literally, 2 inches from my nose.  I hate knowing that, in a disaster, I'd probably die as soon as my last pair of glasses/contacts wore out, b/c I'd get eaten by a saber-toothed tiger or something.  I also don't believe for a second that God created over 50% of the population to have defective vision. 

Long ago, I started reflecting on the fact that glasses are associated with nerds (like me), and started asking around.  Literally, every person I've ever asked who has severe myopia says he read heavily as a child.  Every person I've asked who, while intelligent, does not have glasses, said he did not start reading heavily until later in life (say, college), or not at all.  Hey - our bodies are made for working the ground, or shooting arrows, or cooking ... all arm's length or greater.  We're not made for books & computer screens. 

Naturally, since virtually everyone believes nearsightedness is inherited, I was stricken at the thought of our children being as nearsighteded as I am (dh is fairly myopic, too).  So I asked our eye doctor - does reading cause myopia?  He said no.  I asked him about the Inuit study.  He backtracked.  He stammered.  ... He admitted that yes, near work seems to be associated with an increased rate of myopia, but essentially, what are you gonna do?  Tell kids not to read?  I agreed, but said, what about encouraging good reading practices - lots of light, holding book as far away as you can, eye breaks, good posture, setting a limit on daily reading (kids like me could read literally 8hrs a day)...  He said sure.  :D

A few months later, when I took my daughter in, his substitute pulled the same thing - she claimed that "of course" my daughter had myopia, given my severe prescription.  I asked if she knew of any exercises to decrease myopia, or recommendations of doctors who did, and she wondered why, since it's genetic.  I asked her about the Inuits.  She backpedaled.  She finally admitted that it was probably 50/50 reading & genes, but what are you gonna do?  Tell kids not to read?


So I searched for info and found the Myopia Manual.  It gives the results of nearly every study ever done on myopia & its causes.  The author clearly delineates the facts from his conclusions.  The final analysis is that myopia is a result of near work, while diet (namely, processed foods & sugar (e.g., Vanuatuans attend school 8hrs a day, but eat a traditional, unprocessed diet, & have 2% myopia)), insufficient sunlight, & heredity determine who of those doing heavy near work will become myopic. 

Just before Christmas, a study was released that found that sunlight may save kids' sight.  Young Singaporeans are nearly 90% nearsighted!  (30% just 40 years ago)  While it was at first supposed that they were extremely genetically predisposed to the effects of near work, it turns out that other ethnicities living in Singapore were experiencing the same epidemic of nearsightedness.  However, when children of identical ethnicities living in Singapore & Australia were compared, the ones in Australia (who did twice the reading, but spent four times as much time outside) had one tenth the myopia rate of the ones in Singapore.


I came to the conclusion a while back (probably when my ob/gyn told me that lights while sleeping, even backlit clocks, contribute to cycle irregularities) that we probably should spend more time in the sun during the day & w/ far less light in the dark hours.  (What about skin cancer?  Someday I'll get to the link between sun exposure, skin cancer, vitamin D, and overall health...)  This is absolutely convincing evidence - our eyes were made for the bright sunshine, not the warm incandescent glow, or worse, the flickering fluorescent whiteness. 

Perhaps most interesting in the ABC article is what is their starting assumption, stated as fact: "the long-held view that education and close work are the key drivers of myopia."  Long-held?  Why did the doctors never tell us this?  Why do they just prescribe glasses and send us home, rather than helping us understand the factors so that we can make educated choices about our habits?  I can't tell you how many people I know *swear* that myopia is *purely* hereditary.

So is it near work?  Or is the processed diet & lack of sunshine that come along with increasing urbanization & time spent indoors in school instead of outside working?  Probably all, to what extent each, I don't know, but I'm not too worried about precisely which one - because good reading habits (light, distance, moderation), time outside, & eating real food benefit everyone.  I'll go with that.  (It *is* interesting that the Inuit women spent considerable time in dark igloos sewing, with no resulting myopia, before schooling was introduced.  (But did this start at age 5 or 6, as school does?)  Is it the change in diet that accompanied it?  The white flour & rice & bread?)

(Further evidence for the whole theory: optometry students were observed to have an increase in myopia during school sessions (which means less time outside, more time studying, and probably low-quality food grabbed between classes), while the increase stopped during each school break.)   Turns out, my instinct that God didn't make us myopic as a people was right.  In traditional societies, where modern schooling, diet, & indoor life are unheard of, the myopia rate is less than 2%.  Interestingly, the growing consensus among scientists is that there is very little genetic component at all.

Now stop reading this and take your kids outside!  :D

FIVE YEARS LATER, a fascinating update:
My son, who did not read at all until he was ten, began developing myopia at 7, just like his heavy-reading sister & mother had.  I was totally perplexed.  

When he was 9, we went on the GAPS diet - a gut-healing regimen that excludes all grains, potatoes, dairy, & legumes, focusing on high quality meat, vegetables, fruit, eggs, seafood, fermented foods, & bone broths.  That year, there was NO PROGRESSION of myopia for him or his sister, who was now 12 and at the time when myopia usually progresses the most.  Their 7 year old brother had no myopia beginning. That was two years ago.

One year ago, we went back to eating some (but rare) wheat & other grains. Her myopia did not progress; his did only slightly.  Their 8 year old brother was still myopia-free.  Not only that, but MY prescription improved for the first time in my life.  Just a little bit, but it was the only time that had ever happened since my myopia began at age 7.

Since then, we have returned to no wheat at all, with occasional other grains.  They do eat potatoes & high quality dairy.  I will be fascinated to see what this year's eye exam brings.



( 8 comments — Comment )
May. 9th, 2008 04:15 am (UTC)
More fascinating info!
Lovely blog! It's Heather from CNML here :) Do you mind if I link to this in my blog? I haven't read anything about myopia (mainly because I have perfect vision!) but would really like to pass this on.

May. 9th, 2008 12:48 pm (UTC)
Re: More fascinating info!
Sure! Great to "see" ya!
May. 9th, 2008 01:05 pm (UTC)
Re: More fascinating info!
H - Sooo, did you read a lot as a child? :D
Jul. 19th, 2008 04:07 am (UTC)
other eye stuff?
Hi! I heard about your blog from Heather's website. Have you heard anything about other eye issues, particularly vitreous detachment, which causes "floaters" and "flashers"? I was told there was nothing I could do, but it's weird I even have it--supposedly it's for old people.
Jul. 19th, 2008 04:01 pm (UTC)
Re: other eye stuff?
Now that I've looked up the description of "floaters" on wikipedia, I just realized there's a name for what I've experienced since at least high school! I especially notice them when lying still in the sun, doing nothing ... but other than that, I never notice them anymore. I always thought they looked like amoebas and wondered if other people experienced it. Thinking about them right now, they're all over the place; I just forget about them most of the time now.

Apparently, they are tiny bits of protein & cell debris trapped in the vitreous humour. Or another site said "small tears in the vitreous humour."

Since they're attributed to "degenerative changes of the vitreous humour," & associated with myopia, imo, it is almost certain there is a nutritional cause. They're also a post-cataract-surgery side effect, or a result of trauma. Our eyes, like the rest of us, are made up of what we eat, or what our mothers ate while we were being formed.

"The most common cause is shrinkage of the vitreous humour." This has got to be preventable.

Searching on causes for retinal detachment & on what builds collagen & hyaluronic acid should prove informative. One quick search turned up glucoronic acid (a major ingredient in kombucha) as an important building block of both.

Wiki says that you're in a slightly higher risk category for retinal detachment, esp. if you get flashes - so I'd look up info on nutritional and other causes of retinal detachment.

One person suggested low blood pressure is often associated w/ them (I'm that, too). A lot of the nutritional habits that solve many other problems seem to apply here, as I'm googling what's worked for various people. Flashes have been associated w/ inflammation, adrenal fatigue, & candida. Avoiding processed food (oils, grains, meats...) & taking digestive enzymes are a big help for all of these. Avoiding all sugar & artificial sweeteners is key for candida.

One person says they're a symptom of Lyme disease! Some say glasses w/ glare reduction help. A search on "floaters eyewash" will turn up some interesting ideas. Castor oil eyedrops actually sound good! (high-quality, not from the drug store, of course!) Good luck, and thanks for inspiring my search ... I had no idea it had a name!
Jun. 23rd, 2011 12:20 am (UTC)
This is amazing! I am pretty nearsighted, and I was a bookworm as a kid. I'm going to take this info to heart, thanks for putting it out there.

FWIW, any typos I don't catch are because I do puter stuff w/o my glasses, and miss ms and ns and stuff like that. :)
Oct. 8th, 2015 02:24 am (UTC)
Question about myopia
Hi, I found your article on myopia via Mark's Daily Apple. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and research! I have been looking for info on this for a long time. Did you or your kids experience myopia progression on your potatoes/non-wheat grains/dairy diet? Thanks in advance. :)

Oct. 8th, 2015 12:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Question about myopia
All my children's myopia stopped progressing the year we did GAPS (no wheat or other grains, potatoes, dairy, sugar). They were age 12, 9, 6, & 4. (At the time, the 12 & 9 year olds were already seriously myopic, and had started progressing at age 7, the same year I began my descent into severe myopia.)

The next year, we ate a little grains. The 12 & 9 year olds progressed a little bit. The next year, we ate some grains, but no wheat at all. The progression stopped again. It appears we are seriously sensitive to wheat (not just our eyes, either), but none of us has celiac disease.

There has been no myopic progression in anyone in our family since we removed wheat entirely. The youngest two children are now 10 & 8 and have no myopia at all. It never hit them at all!

I myself, after 20 years of complete stability, was measured very slightly *less* myopic at my last eye exam. I think it might be user error, but it was the same eye doctor using the same equipment he's used on me for at least 15 years, and this has never happened before. He was a little surprised. I've personally been wheat-free for 3 years now, I think.
( 8 comments — Comment )


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