Your Eyes Have Their Own Microbiome. Here's What You Need To Do To Take Care Of It

Photo: Mihael Blikshteyn

One of the most important advances in our knowledge of human health is the discovery and understanding of the microbiome. The microbiome is a community of healthy bacteria, viruses, archaea, and eukaryotic microbes that live on our skin and inside our body. Given its role in our immune and nervous systems, our skin, and every other major bodily system, you should expect this body of research to continue to balloon in the coming years.

However, one thing has already become apparent: Our lifestyle is a big contributor to the health of our microbiome. And everything we do—from the food we eat to the amount of sleep we get—affects the health of the microbiome almost immediately. Sadly, many of our diets are suboptimal, and we are exposed to an increasing amount of stress in our daily lives.

Meet the bacteria living in (and protecting) your eyes.

Researchers are continuing to find new and exciting ways that the microbiome affects overall wellness and disease prevention. In fact, recently, researchers out of Yale University found that there is a diverse microbiome in your eye! To name just a few of the organisms, the ocular microbiome includes Pseudomonas, Corynebacterium, Acinetobacter, Staphylococci, Streptococcus, Streptophyta, and Methylobacterium. The researchers concluded that "evidence strongly suggests that the homeostatic microbiome plays a protective role in preventing colonization of pathogenic species." In other words, just like in your gut, the beneficial bacteria in your eyes prevent infection by harmful germs.

In addition, researchers found that the strongest evidence of a diverse and complex microbiome in the eye is in the conjunctiva and cornea (the conjunctiva is the mucous membrane that covers the front of the eye, and the cornea is the clear protective outer layer of the eye). The role of the microbiome is to enhance the metabolic and immune functions that help ward off pathogens within the body’s systems, so it makes sense that the parts of the eye responsible for protecting the eye from outside pathogens have the most abundant microbiome.

These bacteria protect your eyes from damage and harmful invaders.

The protective role of the microbiome in mucous membranes, such as the mouth, sinuses, and intestine, is well documented. That the same occurs in the eyes should not be all that surprising, but the implications are exciting. By addressing the causative factors of eye disease, we can reduce our reliance on pharmaceuticals and surgery. With a focus on the microbiome, some of the most common eye problems could be viewed and treated in new alternative ways. For example, a cataract is a metabolic problem in the lens of the eye, macular degeneration is a problem with oxidative stress and lack of oxygenation and hydration in the retina, and glaucoma is a circulation problem in the eye. All of these may be treated or prevented by strengthening the ocular microbiome through lifestyle changes and new and promising probiotic-based therapies.

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Here's how to support a healthy ocular microbiome.

We know the microbiome is affected by our lifestyle choices. By manipulating environmental factors such as what we eat, how we exercise, and our stress levels, we may be able to significantly prevent and reverse the most prevalent causes of vision loss. Here are some of the easiest ways to promote a healthy ocular microbiome.

1. Eat anti-inflammatory foods.

Generally speaking, these include foods like fresh fruits and most vegetables. More specifically, stock up on organic blueberries, organic goji berries, wild Alaskan salmon, extra-virgin olive and coconut oils, raw nuts and seeds, coconut-based yogurt, pasture-raised antibiotic-free eggs, and legumes.

2. Avoid inflammatory foods.

These include sodas, store-bought fruit juices, peanuts, processed soy products, fried foods, nonorganic chicken, barbecued foods, cold-cut deli meats, smoked foods, vegetable oils, bread, caffeine, sugar, gluten, alcohol, and red meats.

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3. Supplement smartly.

Complement your anti-inflammatory diet with extra vitamins and minerals that improve oxygenation and hydration of eye tissue. These include lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, glutathione, selenium, taurine, magnesium, vitamin D3, vitamin B, and probiotics.

4. Follow the 20/20/20 rule when it comes to electronics.

This means taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes by looking at an object 20 feet away. It will protect your eyes against the blue light from electronic devices.

5. Avoid eye drops that contain vasoconstrictors.

Replace them with homeopathic MSM (sulfur) eye drops that oxygenate and hydrate the cornea.

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6. Give your eyes time to rest.

Minimize the amount of time that you wear contact lenses, and be sure to remove your lenses before going to sleep.

7. Improve eye circulation.

Dedicate a few minutes each day to eye exercises such as palming, sunning, and long swings. Do a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise.

Did you know that your breasts have their own microbiome? It's true. And it helps prevent breast cancer, too.

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