Keeping the Heart in Mind

Discussion on ocular nutrition can help patients’ ocular and overall health

For Melonie Clemmons, OD, the journey to educate herself and others on nutrition stems from a personal place. “I had always been pretty healthy, but when I had my child seven years ago, it triggered some autoimmune diseases,” she says. “I would start a medication, and it would make me feel worse.” Frustrated with the options presented to her, Dr. Clemmons turned to nutrition. “I wondered how much our nutrition affects the eye,” she says. When she found great personal success, “The diet changed my life and I needed to share that information.”

There was no shortage of information on nutrition. One of the most compelling studies came from an Australian study that said that eating one orange a day reduces the risk of macular degeneration by 60 percent. Finding the interconnectedness of it all is part of what motivates Dr. Clemmons. “Everything is connected to your vascular health—your heart, brain and eyes,” she says. “If people keep their blood pressure healthy, it can help prevent eye disease.” She acknowledges the role of genes in heart and vascular health, but she maintains that “lifestyle trumps the hereditary.”

Nutritional counseling

At Dr. Clemmons’ independent practice inside a Walmart in Ellijay, Georgia, she has a different approach. “I don’t want to treat your macular degeneration, I want to prevent it,” she tells patients. What has proven to be an uphill battle is the multitude of perspectives presented to Americans on where the threshold for “healthy” lies. “What you can tell people is to focus on the basics… stay away from processed foods, for example.”

In her research on ocular nutrition, Dr. Clemmons has found that the nutrients that aid the human body can be found in major food groups like healthy fats, colorful vegetables, and even down to individual spices. “Turmeric reduces inflammation. Ginger and cinnamon lower blood pressure,” she says. “One thing most health experts can agree on is that anything that causes chronic inflammation in the body will cause chronic illness.” She encourages patients to keep a piece of advice passed onto her: With every bite of food you take, you’re either feeding disease or  fighting it.”

Practice makes perfect

The point of Dr. Clemmons ocular wellness center is to help patients improve their lifestyle. One thing she makes clear to them is that it is a no-judgment zone. “I’m not perfect, but what I tell patients is that a little bit of anything is better than a lot of nothing. It’s about their lifestyle over time.”

When patients arrive at her practice, they are presented with a graphic, created by Dr. Clemmons herself, called the Nutrition Line. “Wherever people are, they can get better.” The handout, which focuses on making wise choices, helps Dr. Clemmons emphasize that the more patients take care of their eyes, the more they take care of their hearts and brains, as well. “It’s what I call a win-win-win!”

| Return to Foresight: February 2021 |

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