A 6th grade class photograph from St. Francis Xavier School in New York City, 1975-76 shows only three students wearing glasses. A friend of mine who teaches third grade recently exclaimed, “One day in class this year I noticed that nine out of my twenty-one students wear glasses. When I was in third grade there were only two, maybe three kids who wore glasses. I wonder what that’s about.” Well, I wondered, too, and set out to see if there are any hints from the research world.
Interestingly, myelination of the optic nerve is not complete until a child is about two years old, retinal tissue continues to mature until about age three, and myelin development of synapses in the prefrontal cortex of the brain continues until around age seven.
Why is this important? Myelin, made up mostly of fat and protein, is the insulation around our nerves and spinal cord. The better that insulation is, the more efficiently electrical impulses travel through our bodies. Think of it like good cell phone reception, strong myelin equals good reception. Progressive neurologic diseases like multiple sclerosis are the result of myelin damage.
Researchers are studying nutrition’s effect on the development and maintenance of healthy myelin. Iron deficiency alone has been shown to affect the density of the optic nerve’s myelin in anemic rats. In comparing rat pups breastfeeding from anemic mothers with those feeding from healthy mothers, the optic nerve myelin sheath was much thicker in the pups with healthy mothers. Even when the pups feeding from anemic mothers were given iron supplementation, their optic nerve myelin sheaths were thicker, but did not fully recover to be as healthy as the optic nerve myelin in the pups whose mothers were healthy.
Given rising rates of obesity, households where parents often turn to fast food when juggling long workdays and small budgets, and all of the other such challenges to everyday healthy diets, it is troubling to think of the potential cascading effect poor nutrition could have on just one element of child development—vision.
The good news is there is hope to be found in the journey from sickness to health shared by courageous people who consciously travel different roads. Dr. Terry Wahls has shared her story as a physician who became ill with multiple sclerosis fought back by researching vitamins and nutritional approaches that promoted brain health. Your diet will never be the same after you spend just 17 minutes watching her very inspiring talk on You Tube titled, “Minding Your Mitochondria.”
A terrifically short and easily digestible article on the LIVESTRONG website asks the question, “Can You Repair Myelin Sheath With Diet?” The article offers a simple, five-step approach to improve myelin sheath health by eating healthy foods.
So, while I didn’t find any articles that directly explain why so many of my friend’s third grand students are wearing glasses, I certainly found lots of inspiring food for thought and for sight!
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