Myopia (nearsightedness) is an extremely common condition, and in some places, wearing contact lenses or eyeglasses are now the norm rather than the exception. However, it hasn’t always been this way. We don’t have to go back more than 40-50 years to understand that the prevalence of this condition has increased dramatically over a very short time period. In combination with the fact that myopia is virtually unheard of in primitive, illiterate populations, this suggests that environmental factors play a significant etiological role. Clearly, genetics is also important, but there’s no doubt that there’s something about our environment that is driving the increased rates of nearsightedness. Reduced exposure to sunlight, circadian disorganization, diet, computer work, and excessive reading are some of the key contributing factors, and it’s therefore no surprise that myopia rates are highest among students, office workers, and other individuals who spend a lot of time reading and looking at the computer screen. The traditional approach to dealing with myopia is to simply use corrective lenses, but as we know, contact lenses and glasses do nothing to actually treat the disorder. Actually, they might even make the nearsightedness worse. Another option is to perform corrective eye surgery, but this procedure also poses some concerns, especially regarding price, safety, and long-term effects. Is there another more “natural” treatment option out there?
My story with myopia
I’ve been using contact lenses for more than 10 years. At first, my myopia started out as a relatively mild condition, and I was long hesitant about going to the optician to get it checked. I was simply very afraid of having to wear glasses for the rest of my life, and for me, the idea of using corrective lenses was synonymous with admitting that something about me was “flawed”. Yes, I know this whole idea might seem strange as we know that so many people in the world today use eyeglasses or contact lenses. However, I think I always had the idea in the back of my head that poor vision, dental arch deformities (I also had to wear braces), overweight, and other common disorders are not a natural part of human life.
At the time I spent a lot of my time playing sports and doing physical activities, and I hung out with guys who had no issues with their vision whatsoever. In a competitive environment like that, you don’t want to be the one guy who shows up at soccer practise with eyeglasses (at the time I wasn’t really sure whether contact lenses was an option for me). However, as my vision got worse, I had to take the inevitable trip down to the optician where I got my eyesight checked and was relieved to hear that although I had some issues besides being nearsighted, contact lenses was an option for me.
When I first started wearing corrective lenses I realised that my fears were largely unfounded: It wasn’t that much of a hassle to put them in every morning, and since I was wearing disposable contacts, I could just take them out before bed. However, a couple of issues emerged. My eyes were definitely dryer than before, and perhaps most disturbingly, my vision kept getting worse. Each time I got my sight checked (typically once a year) I had to increase my prescription strength. At the time I thought this was just how myopia develops when you’re relatively young, but I’m now questioning whether the use of contact lenses might have contributed to the progressive worsening. Although looking into myopia has been on my to-do list for a long time, it wasn’t until I checked out the lineup of speakers for this years Ancestral Health Symposium (AHS) and saw that one of the talks were called “Myopia: A modern yet reversible disease” that I really started to consider the idea that nearsightedness might be a treatable condition…
A mismatch disease
When you start to dig into the literature/science and really begin to think critically about things, you discover that so many of the beliefs we hold about health (and many other aspects of our lives for that matter) are just plain wrong. Most of the time, medical practitioners treat symptoms, not disease. Of course, the patients are largely to blame for this superficial and simplistic approach, as most people want to get immediate satisfaction rather than having to stay patient and slowly work on improving their disorder by changing their lifestyle. However, what really surprises me is how few dermatologists, orthodonists, GPs, and other health practitioners who stay up-to-date on the research and actually question things.
- Why are conditions such as acne vulgaris virtually unheard of in hunter-gatherer populations (1), while virtually every kid in the western world gets acne one time or another?
- Why do so many people in the modern world “need” dental braces, while traditional indigenous populations have perfect teeth?
- How do contact lenses affect your vision over time? Are we entering into a vicious cycle when we use corrective lenses to bring everything closer so that distant objects are within the range of focus?
Instead of asking these questions and trying to get to the root of what is really going on, most health practitioners rather just opt for the simple approach of masking or treating the symptoms. In the case of acne vulgaris, patients are given some benzoyl peroxide and oral antibiotics and sent home – or in some cases prescribed the dangerous drug isotretinoin. What all of these treatments have in common is that they target the symptoms, not the underlying inflammation that is at the root of this disease. Antibiotics wipe out bacteria that are responsible for triggering inflammatory processes, benzoyl peroxide acts directly on the skin, and isotretinoin dries up the sebaceous glands. However, as soon as the treatment is over, most people generally see their acne return – even sometimes when they use the powerful drug isotretinoin.
What about dental braces? I had them for years as a child, and at the time I never really questioned why so many people need orthodontic appliances – I probably just thought it was an inherent flaw of the human body. However, I know now better. Isolated, non-modernized populations eating ancestral or traditional diets have perfect teeth compared to the modern man (Some exceptions exist) (3,4,5). Why? Many theories have been proposed, but diet is at the center of the most plausible ones. Basically, a refined diet rich in sugar (and starches?) and low in roughage/fiber (something to chew on) seems to be one of the primary causes of tooth decay, misaligned teeth, and dental arch deformities (3,4,5). That’s not to say I believe you can treat malocclusion and overbite by simply changing your diet (how does your diet affect your children’s dental development?), but it does highlight the fact that dental arch deformities are not a natural part of human life. Just like with symptom-based treatment of skin disorders like acne, most people note that the improvements they get from using orthodontic appliances aren’t permanent. Again, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t use dental braces if you’ve got a severe overbite. I’m just saying that we have to look at the actual underlying causes of these disorders.
What about myopia? Just like the two previous examples, myopia is a disease of civilization/mismatch disease. Studies show that this disorder is virtually unheard of in hunter-gatherer populations and primitive/illiterate people, an observation that isn’t especially surprising when we consider the fact that nearsightedness significantly jeopardises survival in an ancestral natural environment (6). Genes for this condition would clearly have been selected against. We know that prevalence rates of myopia have been on the rise especially over the last 40 years, and we know that an indoor lifestyle characterized by hours in front of the computer and “excessive” reading is at the root of this increased prevalence (7,8). We adapt to our environment.
The question becomes: Are glasses and contact lenses the best solutions for dealing with this epidemic of myopia and hyperopia? They definitely provide instant satisfaction, but they clearly don’t treat the conditions at hand – they merely mask the problems. Could we be doing better? Could be actually treat Myopia without surgeries and see clearly again?
Some researchers, such as Loren Cordain, have proposed that a diet rich in refined carbohydrates could be contributing to the high rates of Myopia in westernized nations (6). However, although diet is probably a contributing factor, I don’t think changing how you eat is going to have any significant effects on your eyesight. Rather, we have to actually involve our eyes. Todd Becker (MS) who presented at the AHS has developed a strategy that he and many of his followers used to reverse their myopia – And they are not the only ones who’ve been able to do this. When I started digging deeper into this whole thing, I found that there are several books and studies supporting the idea that nearsightedness can be corrected.
So, what is this strategy all about? Todd Becker’s treatment protocol is based around the process called hormesis: a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect (improved health, stress tolerance, growth or longevity) results from exposure to low doses of an agent that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses. Basically, he approaches myopia just like you would strength training or cold water showers. To cause an adaptation to strength training, you have to lift heavy weights and work at the edge of failure, and to get some effect from cold water showers, you have to actually be cold and uncomfortable. Todd argues that the same principles hold true when we want to reverse myopia: We have to stimulate the eyes by working on the “edge of failure”. If we stress them too little, we won’t see any improvements, while if we stress them too much, they give up – just like your quads and hamstrings do if you put too much weight on the squat bar.
So, what does this mean? If you’re someone who spends hours each day reading or looking at the computer (as so many of us do), Todd argues that you should challenge your eyes by not wearing corrective lenses (if your myopia is weak, you should use plus lenses). During this time, you should move back and forth between two distances; edge of focus and edge of blur.
This print pushing technique, in combination with using progressively weaker lenses and a technique called fusing of ghosted images, is how he recommends reversing myopia. I’ve included a video below where Todd gives us his own story of correcting myopia, explains the causes of the disorder, highlights plenty of research on the subject, and explains the specifics of his approach. I recommend that you watch the whole thing, but if you want to jump right to the treatment, go to 16:30.
Important final words
I’m not yet convinced that it’s possible to get 20/20 vision using this strategy, as we need more well-controlled studies to say how effective this treatment really is. However, I think it’s possible to at least reverse the process of nearsightedness and improve your vision. I’m definitely intrigued, and I’m strongly considering giving his approach a try over the next couple of months. The biggest obstacle I see at the moment is the practical consideration. Since I use contact lenses – not glasses – I find that it’s going to be a lot of hassle to take the lenses on and off during the day – depending of where I am and what types of activities I participate in. However, I’m not going to let this stop me; I just have to set up an action plan for getting this done without having to sacrifice the enjoyment of life. What about you? Are you going to try to treat your myopia or hyperopia using this technique?