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This article is from the WebMD Feature Archive

Natural vision correction: Does it work?

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Promises that natural vision correction can improve eyesight without the need for medication, surgery or spectacles have been around for years. The principle is that simple eye exercises can restore normal vision. It's appealing, but it's just not true, say professional organisations representing licensed optometrists and ophthalmologists. In fact most experts consider the claims of natural vision correction to be bogus.

We spoke to representatives on both sides of this controversial issue.

What is natural vision correction?

Most practitioners of natural vision correction base their approach on the Bates Method, pioneered in 1919 by Dr William H. Bates, an ophthalmologist and author of ’The Bates Method for Better Eyesight Without Glasses’. Bates believed that the cause of short-sightedness, long-sightedness, and other refractive errors was tension, and that relaxing the eyes would allow them to function normally.

Although practitioners have convincing testimonials from patients, natural vision correction is not recognised by many ophthalmologists (medically trained doctors who have specialist training in conditions related to the eye) or optometrists (people who are not doctors, but are trained to evaluate vision and the health of the eye, as well as to prescribe and fit glasses and contact lenses).

Many of the people who offer natural vision correction have never attended an accredited medical or optometry college. The Bates Method is not taught in accredited schools of optometry and is not recognised by professional ophthalmology or optometry organisations.

Followers of Bates claim that all the conditions normally corrected by spectacles can be eliminated, and some even claim to help or eliminate serious eye diseases, such as cataracts and glaucoma. However, as with many alternative therapies, there are few rigorous, randomised, controlled studies to back up such claims. Bates and his followers based their natural vision correction programmes on observation, not research.

Anatomical fallacy

"The Bates Method is based on an anatomical fallacy," says ophthalmologist Dr Richard Bensinger. "He developed a system that has persisted as the basis for all systems that have been designed since. The fallacy it relies on is that external muscles that control the eye's movements control focus. But in fact, the eye has an internal focusing mechanism."

The ciliary muscles, attached to the eye's flexible lens, assist focusing by creating or relaxing tension on the lens. In this way, the lens curves to accommodate close-up or distance vision. [while this might be ‘interesting’ information, it is extraneous and only clutters this paragraph, detracting from its meaning] These internal muscles are separate from the external muscles that move the eye.

"When we put drops in the eye to dilate the pupil, they paralyse the focusing muscles", says Bensinger. "The evidence of the anatomical fallacy is that you can't focus, but your eye can move up and down, left and right. The notion that external muscles affect focusing is totally wrong."

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