Glaucoma is a broad term for a range of eye diseases. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for the condition right now. The good news is that there is new research suggesting ways to prevent the disease. Vitamin B3 has been shown to be effective at treating mice.
The research – which is led by Jackson Laboratory Professor and Howard Hughes Medical Investigator Simon W.M. John – investigated how vitamin B3 affected mice. The mice had been genetically modified, making them more susceptible to glaucoma. The findings from the research were published in the journal Science.
Glaucoma refers to a group of neurodegenerative diseases that damage the optic nerve. Glaucoma can lead to partial or full blindness. One form of glaucoma – known as open-angle glaucoma – is when fluid builds up inside the eye, increasing intraocular pressure and damaging the optic nerve. This will eventually lead to the loss of retinal ganglion cells. The retinal ganglion cells are neuronal cells connecting the eye and brain together through the optic nerve.
There are several risk factors for glaucoma. The first is advanced age. The older you are, the more likely you are to contract glaucoma. This is partly due to the optical nerve and neuronal cells becoming more vulnerable to intraocular pressure as time passes.
Prof. John and his colleagues performed metabolic, neurobiological, and genetic tests on a group of mice that had been genetically modified to have a predisposition to developing glaucoma. The group also tested a healthy control group to assess the effects of vitamin B3.
The research showed that – as one ages – their levels of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) decreased. NAD is a coenzyme that has an important part to play in cell oxidation. Healthy bodies are able to produce their own NAD by processing vitamin B3.
Much of the Vitamin B3 you ingest will eventually become NAD. As NAD levels are decreased, it decreases brain cell metabolism. The dangers of intraocular pressure are also intensified when the body has a deficiency of NAD.
Prof. John used an analogy to explain the mechanism. He compared the human body to an old motorbike. Things run just fine most of the time, but the parts have become less reliable over time. There comes a day when you apply a little too much pressure and stress it out just a little too much.
Perhaps you were trying to drive up a particularly steep hill, or you were driving for a long amount of time. It doesn’t matter what causes the trouble; what matters is that you’re in trouble. An old bike isn’t as reliable as a new bike is, and old bikes are more likely to fail and need repairs.
There are times when your body is going to fail more often, much like an old bike trying to climb a steep hill. The frequency of failures will increase as time passes, leading to more damage and further progression of diseases such as glaucoma.
The experiment involved mixing vitamin B3 to the drinking water of the mice with the predisposition towards glaucoma. The vitamin B3 was able to cancel out most of the molecular changes that typically occur over time, and protected the mice against the onset of glaucoma.
The authors of the study believe that this suggests treatments containing Vitamin B3 – also known as nicotinamide or niacin – boosted the metabolism of retinal ganglion cells, ensuring that they stayed healthy for longer. That the retinal ganglion cells stay healthy and robot means they are more resistant to the damage from pressure, keeping glaucoma away.
It will take more study to see what effects niacin has on human eyes, but the results seem promising.