That Which Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger
In 1888, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche first stated, “Out of life’s school of war, what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” This sentence has become an overused and often parodied aphorism that nevertheless accurately portrays the picture of resilience and affirmation for overcoming adversity. Indeed, 2020 has been a year of adversity. Humanity has been at war with an enemy that we cannot see with the naked eye, an enemy that has called upon us to not only do what is necessary to protect ourselves but also to put the wellbeing of others often above our own desires. We have cheered on our frontline workers (soldiers) as they have tirelessly fought to keep patients alive while science plays catch up to understand the pathophysiology of a virus full of irony. Why is COVID so mild and often asymptomatic for so many, while at the same time devastating to the health of others? The often asymptomatic and mild nature is one of the factors contributing to the widespread numbers of people spreading the virus unknowingly and thus increasing deaths among those vulnerable, hence, the irony of COVID and 2020 is difficult to ignore.
Looking back in history, a phenomenon of positive transformation often occurs after a society has experienced a collective trauma. The Black Death pandemic (1347-1350) that devastated Europe shook Italian society and transformed it. People moved out of the big cities like Florence. The sense that life was fleeting and that every happiness should be seized led many Italians to seek solace in art and literature, and thus the Renaissance was born. When the plague was over, people flocked back to cities like Florence and new growth occurred. Life was transformed. Post-traumatic growth (PTG) is the theory that explains this kind of transformation. It was developed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, in the mid-1990s, and holds that people or societies who endure psychological struggle following adversity can often see positive growth afterward. Seven areas of growth have been reported: greater appreciation for life, greater appreciation and strengthening of close relationships, increased compassion and altruism, the identification of new possibilities or a purpose in life, greater awareness, and utilization of personal strengths, enhanced spiritual development, and creative growth.
One positive change that is starting to emerge from 2020’s adversity is that people are waking up and taking notice of ways to strengthen their health and wellbeing. It is quite possible that a Renaissance of Health is occurring that has been sorely needed. We as Americans lead the world in lifestyle-preventable chronic diseases. We are learning that obesity and hypertension and Vitamin D deficiency are huge risk factors for COVID severity. We are learning that the diversity of our microbiome from a plant heavy diet is protective. We are learning to be mindful of stress and the impact it has on immune function. Indeed, the internet is full of articles on which vitamins to take and which foods to eat to fight COVID. People are waking up and starting to take notice. People are also realizing the value of relationships as so many of us have been unable to spend time with those we love. Our eyes are being opened to what is important in life.


We at OWNS realize that the mission of our society is more important now than ever. Since the beginning of this year, we have offered our members 7 hours of free continuing education. We started off with a response to the COVID crisis in April by featuring lectures from our President Emeritus Dr. Stuart Richer, Vice President Dr. Pinakin Davey, and President Dr. Julie Poteet on ways to strengthen our immune system and fight COVID. Dr. Richer’s lecture provided 2 hours of CE and was titled “Promoting Natural Immunity” with Dr. Richer proposing that this pandemic will teach us that humans do not die from viruses, rather they die from a lack of immunity that each individual has control over. In August, OWNS members were treated with a free 1 hour CE featuring the dynamic Dr. Paul Chous who presented a lecture titled “What’s New and Still True for Prevention of Diabetic Retinopathy”. In September, OWNS provided its members a very animated and informative CE event featuring our very own VP Dr. Pinakin Davey who presented a lecture titled “Carotenoids and Their Use in Health and Disease”. In October, we featured our annual Academy event online with one of our newest board members and thought leaders in the field of nutrition and AMD. Dr. Chris Knobbe graduated from the University of Colorado school of medicine in 1990. He was on staff as Associative Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, TX from 2001 until 2017. A personal health tragedy that was relieved with dietary modifications changed the trajectory of his career path and by 2013, he learned that man-made, processed foods are driving much chronic disease like heart disease, cancers, and obesity. He then asked “Could processed foods also be indulging and driving macular degeneration? He and his group published a scientific paper in the journal Medical Hypothesis and he also published a book on the subject. ( Although it was virtual and not in person, our OWNS Academy meeting with Dr. Knobbe this year was extraordinary. In November, OWNS provided another hour of free CE finishing out the year with our past founder and well-respected author and teacher Dr. Jeffrey Anshel who presented “Ocular Carotenoids A-Z”. OWNS is grateful to our longtime sponsor and leader in ocular nutrition, EyePromise, for providing support and sponsorship of our virtual CEs.
As a society, we are grateful to our members and to our Executive Director, Kari Cline, who has worked tirelessly to get our new and improved website up and running, which will provide better platforms for collaboration and discussions among members and a more up to date system of coordinating CEs and events.
Dr. Neda Gioia joins OWNS Board of Directors
With a new year approaching, we are also very excited to welcome our newest board member, Dr. Neda Gioia who is a licensed optometrist with 15 years of clinical experience spanning 3 states. Her professional path took an unexpected turn after overcoming a personal health struggle. As a result, she discovered the importance of self-healing and nutritional interventions in treating chronic conditions. Her personal success inspired her to pursue formal education in functional medicine and clinical nutrition so that she could implement it into her practice. She is the founder of Integrative Vision, an optometry practice with a special emphasis on nutritional interventions and preventative modalities for eye health. Her approach to eyecare involves treating the body and optimizing her patients’ foundation. With sight being such a high-level sense, Dr. Gioia believes one should maximize ways to improve quality of vision and reduce ocular disease risks. Her goal is to heal, educate, and, ultimately, empower her patients to achieve better health and a better life.

Dr. Gioia graduated from Rutgers University with a B.A. in Biology and Psychology followed by a doctorate in Optometry at SUNY College of Optometry in New York City. More recently, she earned a certification in functional medicine, followed by achieving fellowship in the Ocular Wellness and Nutrition Society. She is currently working towards completing her Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) degree and completing modules through the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM). She continues to expand her education in functional medicine and its application to eye health while adding to the ever-growing body of knowledge with her own work.


Upcoming OWNS CE Webinar

To start off the New Year, on January 26 OWNS will be providing its members another free 1 hour CE titled “Clinical Applications of Nutraceuticals in Eye Care”. Stay tuned for more CE webinars in February-June 2021. OWNS will provide more free CE to our members as we continue to advance the practice and awareness of ocular nutrition to our colleagues and patients.


Foveal macular pigment dip in offspring of age-related macular degeneration patients is inversely associated with omega-3 index

In closing, the following research that took 9 years in the making, was just published with two of our board members as authors. This seminal paper supports the role of Omega 3’s as an independent risk factor in AMD.


Background: Offspring of parent(s) with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have a 45% lifetime risk of developing the disease. High foveal macular pigment optical density (MPOD) is protective, whereas individuals with a “foveal macular pigment dip” (FMPD) are at increased risk. Shortage of the dietary carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin as well as fish consumption are reported AMD risk factors. This Early Biomarkers of AMD (EBAMD) study evaluates serum factors that protect foveal MPOD architecture in Caucasian offspring of parent(s) with AMD. Methods: N = 130 subjects [mean (SD) age 62.8 (8.6) years; 36/94 male/female] were recruited from Scripps Health/ Scripps Memorial Hospital/ Scripps Mericos Eye Institute between 2012 and 2017. Macula pigment 3D topography was evaluated using specular reflectance. Buccal genetic cheek swab, circulating serum dietary carotenoids and long-term RBC omega-3 fatty acid status, as well as common secondary clinical structural and vision function parameters were obtained.

Results: 41 % of offspring of AMD parent(s) presented with FMPD. These offspring were about 4 years younger than those without FMPD (controls; P = 0.012) and had thinner foveas (P = 0.010). There were no differences in gender, BMI, % body fat, visual acuity or contrast sensitivity between those with and without FMPD. % RBC membrane docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) was reduced in FMPD offspring vs. control offspring (P = 0.04). The Omega- 3 Index was significantly decreased in the FMPD group (P = 0.03).

Conclusions: The percentage of FMPD in AMD offspring is nearly twice that reported for the general population in the scientific literature. Offspring presenting FMPD had similar AMD genetic risk, but significantly reduced % RBC membrane omega-3 fatty acids and thinner foveas compared with those without FMPD. Our data supports the importance of ‘essential fatty’ acids as an independent AMD risk factor.

“This seminal finding suggests that a low DHA concentration may play an age-independent role in the pathophysiology and hence vulnerability for AMD, in the offspring of an AMD parent(s).”

Happy New Year from OWNS! We are grateful for our members and sponsors!