Gut Health & Eye Disease: The Stomach and Eye Connection
Gut health and eyesight may be more closely connected than you thought. If you encourage beneficial bacteria to grow in your stomach, you may help keep your eyes healthy for years to come.
Read on to find out more about the link between gut health and the eyes and discover the signs of an unhealthy gut. But first, let’s take a closer look at what goes on in the human gut.
Gut Health and the Body
Trillions of microbes live in the gut. These include thousands of species of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that are collectively known as the microbiome.
The microbiome plays many roles in the body, right from birth. It helps our own cells break down cellulose and other complex molecules, produce vitamins, and take in nutrients.
It’s also involved in homeostasis, the body’s ability to maintain a stable internal state. And it helps protect our bodies from harmful bacteria and develop our immune system.
The gut is even connected to the brain through a network of nerves and affects brain health by controlling messages sent to it. You can think of the microbiome as an extra organ whose main role is to keep your body healthy.
Not all the bacteria in our guts are beneficial, though. In a healthy gut, there’s a balance between good or probiotic bacteria and harmful bacteria.
Gut health disturbances have been associated with several diseases including irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and conditions that come with eye health complications such as diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders.
It’s only in the last few decades that we have begun to understand how gut health can impact other organs of the body, the eyes included.
Is It True That Gut Health Affects Eye Health?
A 2015 study found that gut microbes are likely responsible for triggering autoimmune uveitis, an eye condition that causes 15% of severe visual impairment in North America and Western Europe. More specifically, microbes in the gut create a molecule similar to a retinal protein, which activates T cells that attack proteins in the eye.
In other studies, microbes in the gut have been associated with glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and other serious eye diseases. In relation to glaucoma, a 2018 study found that elevated pressure inside the eye may lead T cells activated by microbes in the gut to infiltrate the retina.
What’s more, a 2021 animal study notes that the aqueous substance in the eye contains its own microbiota, which may travel there from the gut. Changes in the ocular microbial flora have been related to dry eye syndrome and other eye conditions such as keratitis and conjunctivitis.
The exact mechanisms by which microbes in the gut cause eye disease are an open area of research. But the growing body of scientific evidence makes it clear that gut health and eyesight are more intricately connected than previously thought.
If scientists uncover specific gut bacteria that trigger eye diseases such as autoimmune uveitis, new treatment methods for these conditions may become available. This could potentially include treatments against eye diseases that cause irreversible vision loss.
Until then, looking after the health of your gut bacteria could help you stay healthy and safeguard your vision.
Signs of An Unhealthy Gut
Your gut becomes unhealthy if bad gut bacteria outnumber the beneficial bacteria. Multiple causes can lead to this, including poor diet and taking antibiotics, which kill both good and bad bacteria indiscriminately.
Unhealthy gut symptoms resulting from imbalances in the microbiome can include:
- Frequent bloating, constipation, gas, and upset stomach
Unhealthy gut bacteria have difficulties processing the food you eat and eliminating waste products. This results in a wide range of gut bacteria symptoms that we experience as an upset stomach.
- Putting on weight or losing weight without wanting to
Gut bacteria imbalances can affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and store fat.
- Poor sleep, insomnia, and other sleep disturbances
An unhealthy gut doesn’t produce normal quantities of serotonin, the hormone that affects sleep and mood.
- Chronic fatigue
Poor nutrient absorption and sleep disturbances caused by microbiome imbalances may lead to feeling constantly tired.
- Eczema and other skin irritations
An unhealthy gut is prone to inflammation, causing proteins to leak from it into the body and trigger skin irritation.
- Food intolerances
Unlike food allergies, food intolerances occur when your gut has difficulties digesting certain foods. It may be caused at least in part by unhealthy gut bacteria.
How to Improve Your Gut Health
By helping your gut foster beneficial bacteria, you help your whole body, including your eyes, to stay healthy. There are many ways in which you can do this.
- Eat prebiotic foods
Prebiotic foods promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut. Everyday prebiotics include chicory, garlic, onions, flaxseeds, apples, bananas, oats, legumes, cashews, and pistachios.
- Take a probiotic supplement
These are supplements that provide live beneficial bacteria in a pill.
- Eat slowly
Not eating in a hurry allows for better digestion and improves nutrient absorption.
- Eat the right foods
High-fiber foods and fermented foods help improve gut health.
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep
Getting enough sleep helps support a healthy gut microbiome.
- Stay hydrated
Drinking enough water helps maintain a balanced microbiome and benefits the lining of the gut.
Keeping Your Gut and Eyes Healthy
Gazing at your navel now and then may not be a waste of time if it reminds you of the microbial world living in your intestines. And if it motivates you to make healthy food and lifestyle choices to help the beneficial bacteria you carry within you thrive.
As we’ve seen, gut health is linked to many eye conditions, including dry eye syndrome. If you experience one or more signs of an unhealthy gut, it’s a good idea to take a dry eye test.
Nutrient deficiencies and dietary choices may play a role in dry eye syndrome. Knowing that you have the condition can motivate you to eat healthier, take supplements, sleep better, and look after both your gut health and eye health.
Our quick, question-based online dry eye test takes only a few minutes. You can take it on your phone or computer.