By Dorothy Hitchmoth, OD, FAAO, ABO, ABCMO Diplomat
Dr. Hitchmoth is an EyePromise Scientific Advisory Board Member
Holistic care is now mainstream in America. Society has shifted to a deeper understanding that natural or organic options in things like food, beverages, skin care, and even health care are important and desirable. When it comes to staying well and healing, all practitioners know that research has clearly demonstrated that stress, a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits are implicated in chronic disease, including those that cause vision loss.
Optometrists are perfectly positioned to promote a healthy lifestyle because nutraceutical treatment for one of the most common causes of blindness has been standard of care for nearly two decades now. If you have the acumen and confidence to prescribe better habits like smoking cessation and AREDS vitamins, why not take it a step further.
Our nation is suffering from the scourge of poor nutrition, and all doctors, including optometrists, have an important role to play in changing health outcomes. If we don’t act, health care costs will continue to skyrocket, and our children’s generation will have a shortened life span. Prevention is cheap and effective. I implore the women who might read this article to take that first step in partnering with their patients by taking the time to educate and encourage behavioral change. It will improve lives and prevent blindness.
EYE CARE = FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE
We are on the front line of health care in nearly every community in the U.S. There are 250 diseases that can be discovered during an eye exam by observing literal anatomical correlates in the brain and heart, for example. As ODs, we see the early biomarkers of heart disease, diabetes and many other conditions. This privileged perspective gives a true holistic view of each patient’s health and puts ODs in a prime position to make a difference in the future of that patient’s quality of life and disease trajectory.
We’ve all experienced the astonished look on patients’ faces when you show them an image of their eye. This is an opportunity to kick off a discussion about the connection between their eye and their health. It’s also an enormous opportunity to educate patients that going to the optometrist is not just about prescribing glasses—it is about saving function and life.
As female optometrists, we may be uniquely positioned and should leverage the strength of our maternalistic role in society to advise patients about their eyes, overall health and work-life balance. We also have a bit of an advantage when it comes to forging patient trust, and we often get to know our patients and gain their confidence in a way that allows us to influence their choices. In my experience, patients are surprised and express deep gratitude for any guidance about their family’s health as well as their own.
When I wanted to get started with holistic eye care, I was diligent in learning everything I could about the relationship between diet, exercise and eye health. I spent the last half of my career to date studying, learning and pouring over the literature to best understand what prevents blindness and poor health.
We know that eye health and whole-body health are interconnected. Using this knowledge, we know that diet and exercise have a lot to do with maintaining long-term eye health. Unfortunately, health statistics tell us that most people are not eating healthy, so you can have this discussion with just about anyone who comes into your office.
However, there are some people who won’t stray from standard American diet. I tell them that they are likely lacking very important nutrients. For these folks and for others with specific disease states, I recommend supplements in a variety of formulas, and I never stop believing they can change their ways
NUTRITIONAL SUPPORT FOR EYE AND OVERALL HEALTH
It’s important to supplement the eyes with ingredients like lutein, zeaxanthin and Omega-3s, especially if a person has a poor diet or risk of certain eye diseases. We’re already recommending dietary supplements and lifestyle changes for patients with AMD and dry eye, but why not offer nutritional support for all our patients? Eye health and nutrition are important for patients with diabetes and screen time symptoms, too. I recommend certain nutrients for both patient types.
There are some great nutrition and supplement companies. I recommend starting with a company that has a complete armentarium of supplements targeted toward vision care so you can keep it simple. Learn about the ingredients and purpose and prescribe these nutrients. Start adding in other health advice over time, and ask your patients if they are interested in learning more. You may be surprised at their response.
Statistically, women make 70 percent of health care decisions for their families, and we all want the same things for ourselves and our families: long, healthy, full lives. Public health data tells us that our patients are missing key ingredients that are important for their eye and overall health, so nutrition is an integral piece in any long-term health plan. Use your position as an OD to help influence and improve their nutritional decisions and overall well-being.
I take my front-line position in health care very seriously, and I invite you to take that first step as a provider by taking the rhetoric in your exam lane one step further. ODs change the lives of their patients every day so why not kick it up a notch? For those of you already taking a holistic, preventive approach, take a bow.
About the author:
Dr. Dorothy Hitchmoth serves as a Scientific Advisory Board member for EyePromise, the leading eye health nutraceutical company. She is a nationally recognized executive and professional team leader who has advocated for patients, colleagues, and the public through countless symposia, public lectures and motivational speeches.