Cataracts are the leading cause of vision-loss for people over 40, and are often described as being ‘age-related’. A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye, resulting in decreased vision, decreased ability to distinguish colors, and possibly an increased sensitivity to bright light.
There are different types of cataracts, some causing loss of visual sharpness, others resulting more in problems with ‘glare’; the location of the cataract may vary as well. A nuclear cataract grows in the central most dense part of the optic lens. As cataracts grow, vision impairment becomes worse, and generally eye surgery is the recommended treatment.
Often an eye exam finds the cataract(s) when they are quite small, and the doctor may suggest surgery in the distant future, such as 10+ years from initial detection. A different eye disease associated with aging is called macular degeneration; this occurs in the center of the field of vision in the retina, and is less easily treated.
Cataracts may be prevented with healthy eating
Although many assume that ‘age-related’ conditions are inevitable, there is a growing consensus that a dietary approach can minimize the potential of getting cataracts in the first place.
One approach to scientific research is called a meta-analysis, where the results of many investigations are compiled and evaluated.
In a recent meta-analysis of vitamin therapy (antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E) on age-related cataracts, the authors state ‘that multivitamin/mineral supplements could decrease the risk of nuclear cataracts. There is sufficient evidence to support the role of dietary multivitamin/mineral supplements for decreasing the risk of age-related cataracts’ (1). If we analyze these statements, ‘decrease the risk’ means that vitamins may prevent potential age-related cataracts in the first place. Secondly, ‘multivitamin/mineral supplements’ indicates a preventive role for minerals as well as vitamins (2).
Lutein and zeaxanthin are common ingredients associated with eye health
As stated above, Vitamins A, C, and E, can decrease the risk of cataracts (1); other reports suggest Vitamin C, E and beta-carotene, the dietary precursor to Vitamin A (3). Beta-carotene is found in foods such as pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes, and yams, and was named for the characteristic orangey color of these foods.
There are also products marketed for ‘eye health’, and lutein/zeaxanthin are common ingredients in these supplements. Because vitamin A can be deleterious to health if taken in excess, and may actually increase the risk of lung cancer for smokers, lutein/zeaxanthin are commonly recommended as safer ‘eye health’ protectants (4).
Lutein/zeaxanthin not only make up the yellow color in corn and saffron, but are also found in high levels in foods such as kale, chard, mustard and turnip greens, parsley, arugula, basil, and collards.
Studies show B-vitamins also playing a role in keeping the eyes in good shape
Further studies also suggest that the B-vitamins are healthy for eyes (5). An ‘Age-Related Eye Disease Study’ tested Vitamins C, E, beta-carotene, zinc, and copper; this study showed a 5-year benefit in terms of decreased ‘risk of progression’ for age-related cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (5).
Pretty straight-forward: eat your greens and orangey vegetables to protect your eyes.