When it comes to healthcare, we sometimes tend to think that the medicines we take are created by scientists in a laboratory. While that is partly true, the origins of many drugs and chemicals are found in nature.
Plant extracts have helped save the lives of millions of people – aspirin is derived from white willow and is an effective weapon against developing heart disease and cancer. Eye conditions can also be treated by a number of different natural compounds. Some of these plants are harmless, while others are toxic and can only be used topically.
Here are some naturally occurring extracts that can help to improve common eye diseases.
Extracted from the highly poisonous nightshade family of plants, atropine is used by eye doctors to dilate the pupil. If it is ingested, it can quickly lead to numerous health problems – increased heart rate, hyperthermia, and mental confusion may all be diagnosed.
Luckily, when used as eye drops it is harmless, and helps ophthalmologists perform a thorough eye examination, by increasing pupil size. It has also been shown to slow the progression of shortsightedness in children by 50%, a major progression in protecting eyesight and reducing future healthcare costs.
In ancient times, atropine was popular with females, who discovered it could enlarge their pupils and potentially make them more attractive to the opposite sex!
Another chemical to be aware of is tetryzoline, a common ingredient in eye drops that shrinks blood vessels, reduces redness, and calms inflammation.
It is derived from Imidazoline, a compound that occurs naturally in ocean sea sponges. Again, when used as prescribed, the eye drops have no health implications, but if misused they can be toxic.
Tetryzoline is sometimes marketed as Visine eye drops, and these have been linked with intentional poisoning incidents, as they can easily be added to victims drinks.
Symptoms of tetryzoline poisoning include:
- a drop in blood pressure
- violent vomiting episodes
- falling into a coma
Simply use the medication as intended to avoid these dire consequences!
Although aloe vera has traditionally been used for anti-inflammatory purposes, there is now a growing amount of evidence that it could contribute to reducing eye inflammation too. This may prove very useful in alleviating the discomfort caused by conjunctivitis and dry eyes.
It may also have an big impact on helping to treat problems with the cornea. One study showed that aloe improved corneal inflammation, while another demonstrated that it can assist in healing eye ulcers, meaning it might be beneficial in the treatment of diabetic keratopathy.
Aloe veras main power seems to lie in its potent activity against both fungi and bacteria. By reducing these micro-organisms to low levels, the eye can repair itself more quickly.
Mushrooms were the source of one of the biggest drug advancements of recent years, as the cholesterol-lowering lovastatin was isolated and developed from oyster mushrooms. These types of mushrooms are also proving very effective against two troublesome eye diseases – cataracts and glaucoma.
Pleurotus ostreatus is an edible fungi that has been tested for its ability to lower intra-ocular pressure, a necessity for any anti-glaucoma medication. The results show that it does indeed reduce eye pressure – it was actually as effective as timolol, the current first-choice eye drop therapy for glaucoma.
A second form of oyster mushrooms (pleurotus florida) helped to prevent cataracts caused by high sugar levels. Hopefully, this research will result in a drug that can be a useful tool in the fight against diabetic cataracts.