Scientists have constantly searched for explanations as to why certain health problems – memory loss, slowed reactions, insomnia, etc. – develop as we age. Now, two doctors from the University of Kansas School of Medicine, Dr. Martin Mainster and Dr. Patricia Turner, believe they have an answer.
Their Hypothesis: The aging eye is to blame for increased health problems in older individuals.
As your eyes age, your lenses gradually yellow and your pupils narrow. This allows less and less light to reach retinal ganglion cells (photoreceptive cells) in the retina. These cells absorb sunlight and transmit messages to a part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (S.C.N.), which governs the body’s circadian rhythm.
The S.C.N. initiates the release of the hormone melatonin in the evening and cortisol in the morning. Melatonin, in particular, is believed to have several health-promoting properties. In fact, studies have shown that people with low melatonin secretion have a higher frequency of such illnesses as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
“We believe the effect is huge and that it’s just beginning to be recognized as a problem,” said Dr. Turner, an ophthalmologist in Leawood, Kansas, who has written extensively on this subject with her husband, Dr. Mainster, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Kansas Medical School.
Dr. Mainster and Dr. Turner estimated that by age 45, the photoreceptors of the average adult receive just 50 percent of the light needed to fully stimulate the circadian system. By age 55, it drops to 37 percent, and by age 75, to just 17 percent.
Ways to Combat this Problem
- Dr. Mainster and Dr. Turner believe people need to make a concerted effort to expose themselves to more sunlight.
- Researchers in Sweden believe that cataract surgery results in higher levels of melatonin production. These researchers studied patients who had cataract surgery to remove their clouded lenses and implant clear intraocular lenses. The researchers noticed that incidences of insomnia and daytime sleepiness were greatly reduced.
“We believe that it will eventually be shown that cataract surgery results in higher levels of melatonin, and those people will be less likely to have health problems like cancer and heart disease,” Dr. Turner said.
To learn more about Aging Eyes and Health please contact board certified ophthalmologist Dr. Samuel Boles, consultative optometrist Dr. Nathan Frank, and the eye care specialists at Anne Arundel Eye Center by calling 410-224-2010 or click here to visit AnneArundelEyeCenter.com today!
Located in Annapolis, Maryland, the Anne Arundel Eye Center offers comprehensive specialized ophthalmic exams as well as diagnostic pre and post-surgical eye care. Specializing in glaucoma and cataracts, Dr. Boles has helped restore and preserve thousands of patients’ vision.
Glaucoma and Cataracts may be a natural part of aging. Losing your vision doesn’t have to be.
For more eye care advice and information, please take a look at our previous blog posts.