The Eyes Have It: Integrative Optometry Reveals Much About Overall Health
Nov 02, 2015 09:35PM
● By Randy Schulman
It has been said that the eyes are the portal to the soul and that may be, but in truth they reveal much more. The field of integrative optometry creates understanding of a much broader view of the eyes and our vision. An integrative optometrist takes the approach that much can be learned about the health and well-being of an individual through a comprehensive vision evaluation and assessment.
The integrative approach involves a model that encompasses much more than clarity of eyesight, physical health of the eyes and refractive error (nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism). This approach is a considerable expansion of the behavioral model first introduced by A.M. Skeffington in the 1920s. This founder of behavioral optometry recognized that vision involved more than just eyesight and involved two parts of vision, the “what is it?” and the “where is it?” streams of processing. The “what is it” part dealt with detail and identifying objects in our world, including their size, orientation and color. The “where is it part” looked at centering on those objects and locating where they were, their relationship to other objects and their movement. Little did he know that more than 50 years later, these two streams of vision processing would be identified in the brain by Nobel Prize winners Hubel and Wiesel. They identified two sets of signals that come from the retina, namely those from our fovea, or central focus, and those signals from more peripheral parts of the retina. Skeffington also considered two other brain processes to be part of vision, the “where am I?” or proprioception part, and the “how do I communicate?” or the speech and language part. He was describing an integrated model that included communication between different parts of the brain that addressed aspects of vision, proprioception and sensory motor information, and speech and auditory information. In fact, brain research has demonstrated that visual areas of the brain do communicate with brain centers involved in processing movement, sensory motor signals, speech and auditory information.
Within that framework, behavioral optometrists consider that how you see will affect how you move, communicate and, ultimately, function in the world. By looking at things like eye movements, focusing, eye teaming and depth perception, as well as overall visual processing—such as visual auditory and visual motor coordination (how one encodes visually spoken or written language and eye-hand-body coordination)—the behavioral optometrist can determine how successful the individual may be at learning, sports and functioning in the workforce. He can also prescribe glasses and/or training to improve vision.
Going beyond the behavioral model is the integrative optometrist that looks not only at functional vision but at the total individual. Here, the model expands once again to consider physical, chemical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual health all through the eyes in a comprehensive vision evaluation. The practitioner looks at not only the physical health of the eyes but can see in the eyes about the total health of the body. The eye is the only place in the body where one can see living, moving blood vessels both on the conjunctiva and the retina. A view of the eye indicates if there are systemic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and circulatory problems. The iris contains a map of the entire body, and using iridology—a measure of this map developed by a chiropractor named Bernard Jensen —the practitioner can determine if there are digestive, circulatory, liver, heart, endocrine or musculoskeletal weaknesses. In great detail, the body is mapped out on the iris, and both chronic and acute problems will be revealed. One can also note biochemical concerns in the eye, such as a buildup of toxins, high cholesterol, poor absorption, and adrenal fatigue caused by poor nutrition.
Other forms of iridology indicate mental and emotional patterns and give an imprint of what the individual is meant to learn. Using the Rayid method, the practitioner can determine someone’s preferred learning style and certain behavioral characteristics, such as rational, intellectual thinking patterns or a more emotive, passionate approach to life. Others may be more movement-oriented, thinking less and needing to try things themselves. All of this can be viewed in the eye.
An integrative practitioner will take a careful history—looking at nutrition, sleep patterns, lifestyle habits, and workplace and home demands—and review such visual findings as nearsightedness, farsightedness, over-focus or poor convergence (eye teaming at near). The practitioner will also look at general behavioral characteristics and thought patterns or beliefs about the client’s environment and/or his/her eyes (such as, “I can change my prescription” or “No one can change their prescription”). After reviewing all the information, the practitioner can make recommendations for glasses, vision-enhancement training, and lifestyle modifications to optimize vision as well as total health and well-being. Because vision is so critical to all that we do, it is a natural place to start the conversation on how to make improvements in life. If there are more serious conditions, such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration, an integrative practitioner can provide recommendations on how best to support the body naturally to optimize visual potential.
The eyes are truly the window to the individual’s world and to your soul. What better place to look to learn about oneself and ways to expand your potential? A careful examination of the eyes reveals much about the whole person and provides keys to improving quality of life. Insights into how we see and process the world offer opportunities to grow, enhance our vision and improve overall health.
Randy Schulman, MS, OD, FCOVD, practices integrative optometry in Fairfield County with locations in Trumbull, Southport and Norwalk, CT. See ad, page 28.