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Eyesight Improvement: Bates Method & Eye Vitamins?

Updated on March 18, 2014

Bates Method & Eye Vitamins: Misguided Popularity

Undoubtedly some of the efforts are well intentioned. Especially practitioners of Bates Method may have seen some success, and are trying to provide an alternative to glasses. This is commendable, even if a bit misguided.

Eye vitamin and related "vision health" product sales however, may be a bit more difficult to justify.

Questions To Ask:

  • Is there any real, current, scientific base to the claims?
  • What specific cause is being addressed, and how, by the activity?
  • Are testimonials in any way verifiable?
  • Are "doctor endorsements" real, or just made up?

It's The Glasses, Silly!

Alex Frauenfeld humor.  Please take no offense, if you enjoy the Bates method yourself.
Alex Frauenfeld humor. Please take no offense, if you enjoy the Bates method yourself. | Source

The Problem With Bates Method

William Bates had a good hunch about vision health. He felt that glasses are not the only answer, that that healthy vision can be restored through positive stimulus instead.

And he was right.

Unfortunately, Bates method addresses a type of myopia that was prevalent in his time - which, let's remember, was a hundred years ago!

Science understands today that myopia is made up of two stages. First we have a temporary, muscle strain myopia, that science refers to as NITM (near induced transient myopia). That is the type of myopia that the exercises that Bates promoted, can work effectively on.

NITM means -1.5 diopters or less, and no glasses having been worn by the participant previously.

Why is that second point so important?

Once you wear glasses, your myopia increases, through something referred to as "lens-induced" myopia. This again, reproduced by studies over the past 40 years, is the inevitable outcome of using glasses (and the reason your eyesight got worse, once you started wearing glasses).

We can't fault Bates method for not working for most myopes today, beyond a small improvement. His time simply was dealing with a) much less strain and b) a different type of myopia (NITM).

Also in Bates defense, he did get a lot of positive results, in his time. Back then we had much less reading, obviously no computer use, no TV watching, and generally very much less opportunity to spend our time being close-up focused at a single spot (important point - close-up focus alone is not the only problem - being focused at a single spot, without moving, for hours, compounds the problem).

It is what causes a lot of the confusion. The method had success, and even today, it shows improvement for participants - so then why won't it work, to fully recover from myopia?

And indeed if you started with almost no myopia, and replicated Bates times for your habits, you could get back to 20/20. You would have to spend very little time up-close, not wear glasses, and make sure that your ciliary muscle was relaxed. Since it is unlikely though, given most of our lifestyles, that you would replicate a life from a 100 years ago, your success with the Bates method will be limited (to maybe around 1 diopter of improvement at most).

Eye Vitamins vs. Lens Induced Axial Elongation

It is the most common outcome of minus lens wear, according to published studies.
It is the most common outcome of minus lens wear, according to published studies. | Source

Myopia Studies

Published By Hundreds Of Reputable Sources, Including:

  • State University of New York, College of Optometry
  • University of Alabama: Department of Vision Sciences
  • Journal of The College of Optometrists
  • The Journal of the American Optometric Association
  • Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Wayne State University
  • School of Optometry, The University of Waterloo
  • The British Journal of Ophthalmology

This Is Why A Vitamin Won't Work:

Here is what the University of Alabama found, when studying the effect of minus lenses on the eye:

“In juvenile tree shrews, a minus-power lens placed in front of the eye produces increased axial elongation and a myopic shift in refractive state that compensates for the power of the lens.”

The tree shrew is used often in these studies are their eyes very closely resemble our own in terms of biology.

Of course the problem here is, that the cause of the myopia, is the lens. To fix a dietary deficiency, specific supplements, ie. vitamins, can be helpful. Here though, the cause of the myopia is not dietary - hence vitamins are ineffective.

You did not get a -3 diopter or -5 diopter prescription, because you didn't eat your eye vitamins.

You got the prescription, because you started with a -1, and then gradually went to a -2, etc etc. This progression is the lens-induced myopia that the tree shrew experiences, the same way you did.

To undo this kind of myopia, we have to look at the lens and prescription, not an Internet vitamin.

Myopia Causes and Cures

less close-up work
manage close-up strain
preventative prescriptions
preventative prescriptions
reducing prescriptions
careful about close-up
active focus distance work
active focus distance work
active focus distance work

Bates Method Shortcomings

If you simply stop wearing glasses, like many Bates Method proponents suggest, you simply live in a lot of blur. There is no upside there, and that method may lead to depression and anxiety (your brain, the visual cortex is in a permanent state of high stress, if your vision signal is blurry).

Eyesight changes are based on stimulus.

And that is where Bates had it right - but in his time, there wasn't a prevalence of -4 diopter myopes. Had there been, he may well have discovered rehabilitative strategies to manage prescriptions and more advanced methods for creating stimulus.

All Bates Method does, is work to relax the ciliary (focusing) muscle. Even on that front, a lot of the exercises are of questionable merit - the amount of time you spend practicing, vs. the return on your investment, are not ideal.

Active focus is what you really need. It is what your eyes are designed for - looking at distant objects. Working at distances just before blur begins to happen, making an effort to 'clear' the image before you, is the key positive stimulus. To achieve this, more modern rehabilitative methods, and prescription managements, are far more effective than adaptations of Bates method.

Fortunately, these alternative myopia managements are gaining traction, and there is a whole category of ophthalmologists that deals with these types of practices.

Referred to as 'behavioral ophthalmology', these practitioners tend to not see glasses as the only answer to myopia. Caveat emptor of course, since as with any profession, not every practice is perfect and not every method infallible, it is nonetheless a step in the right direction - and viable, unlike the premise of the Internet vitamin cure.


Medical Science Recognizes Rehabilitation

One of my favorite quotes:

“Myopia is a highly prevalent disorder of vision that has traditionally been managed by means of corrective lenses. In recent years, however, there has been an upsurge of interest in the use of vision training programs as an alternative form of treatment, and particularly in the application of behavior modification techniques for the improvement of visual acuity. The most impressive experimental work to date has been in the area of operant conditioning methods (principally feedback and fading) on the modification of acuity, and this research is reviewed in depth.”

That one is from the University of Medicine at the New Jersey-Rutgers Medical School.

What is particularly interesting with statements like this, is that the medical community is responding to the wealth of studies that have accumulated over the past four decades. They recognize that operant conditioning works, that glasses and LASIK are not the only way to treat myopia as a condition.

There are alternatives, then, to glasses. Unfortunately they are not as simple as popping an Internet vitamin pill, or palming your face and rolling your eyes. Dedication is still necessary, to reverse the damage that years of close-up focus and high prescriptions have done to your eyes.

Talk to your local behavioral ophthalmologist, or review some science-based, rehabilitative programs online. For real results, this is the best direction for your eyesight health.


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    • profile image

      Umm Asma 15 months ago

      I have left my glasses for 6 years and its like you say I only had some benefit, from -4.25 to -3.25 but I haven't made much of a difference since then..

      What your suggesting is probably right or the fact that I have stopped palming and relaxing my eyes. I never continued with it.

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 3 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Very good information for our eyes.