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Meditation can help lower eye pressure in glaucoma patients: AIIMS study

PTI Oct 22, 2018

Meditation can help lower eye pressure in patients suffering from glaucoma, according to a recent study by doctors at the premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi.

The study was done at RP Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences in collaboration with Integral Health Clinic, Department of Physiology and Genetics Lab in the Department of Anatomy at the AIIMS. Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in India impacting over 12 million people. 

In this disease, the optic nerve (the cable which connects the eye to the brain) of the eye gets damaged due to high intraocular pressure. "Lowering of intraocular pressure (IOP) is the only proven therapy for glaucoma and this is currently achieved with eye drops, laser therapy or surgery. Eye drops are costly and have side effects on the whole body and many patients are not able to afford them as a life long therapy," said Dr Tanuj Dada, professor of Opthalmology at the RP Centre, AIIMS, also the first author of the study.

As a part of the study, which has been published in Journal of Glaucoma (official journal of the World Glaucoma Association), 90 glaucoma patients were selected and randomly divided into two groups. While one group performed meditation and breathing exercises (pranayama) for 60 minutes each morning over 21 days under a trained yoga instructor along with glaucoma medications, the second group just continued medicines without any meditation.

At the end of three weeks there was significant reduction seen in intra-ocular pressure (eye pressure) with mean pressure falling from 19 mmHg to 13 mmHg (25 per cent IOP reduction seen in 75 per cent patients) in the meditation group. Patients who underwent meditation therapy also had major changes in stress hormones (decrease in cortisol and increase in beta-endorphins) with improvement in wellbeing.

There were also changes in expression of the genes positively impacting health of the retinal ganglion cells and optic nerve which would potentially protect the eye from future damage and blindness. "We know that glaucoma patients have high levels of anxiety and stress as they suffer from a potentially blinding disorder. We also are aware of the fact that stress leads to elevation of blood pressure but seldom think about its impact on eye pressure.

"This is the first study in the world which offers robust scientific evidence for lowering of eye pressure with meditation by targeting the brain and improving both the eye condition as well as general health of the patients," said Dr Raj Kumar Yadav, Professor in-charge of Integral Health Clinic, Department of Physiology at AIIMS.

This technique of meditation can be easily learnt and practised by all glaucoma patients, including elderly and bed-ridden patients, and can significantly alleviate the suffering of glaucoma patients and reduce the need for medicines. "A word of caution - mediation can be recommended as an adjunctive therapy for glaucoma patients and not as a substitute for medicines/eye drops. "Patients must not stop using glaucoma medications and must regularly follow up and get their eye check up done at least once a year by a qualified eye specialist," Dr Tanuj Dada, Professor of Ophthalmology at RP Centre. said. The study was funded by the Ministry of AYUSH.

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