This month, our Sussex based health practitioner takes a look at cataracts and how to avoid them.
Gradual loss of vision through the development of cataracts is most common in the elderly, but it may also begin much earlier. The first signs of onset are unclear vision and an increased sensitivity to light. An early symptom of a cataract in the elderly is the sudden ability to read without previously-needed reading glasses. Over the years, one or both lenses cloud over and may eventually lead to total blindness. When the condition becomes serious, the cataract is easy to see as the darkened lens clouds over the pupil.
Cataracts are the result of degenerative changes in the eye. It is a hereditary problem if it develops very early, although this isn’t common. Repeated exposure of the eyes to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, radiation, or the infrared rays of an open fire without protective eyewear can all cause cataracts. The development of cataracts has a number of potential causes, such as diabetes, UV light or radiation exposure, injury or surgery to the eye, viral infections, toxic heavy-metal excess in the body (especially cadmium, bromine, cobalt, iridium and nickel), heredity and advancing age. It is worth noting that, even though you may think we don’t get excessive sun here in Sussex, not all sunglasses offer full or enough protection from UV rays. If they don’t, they will actually contribute to cataract development later in life because the dark lenses cause the pupils to dilate, increasing UV exposure. Cataracts are fundamentally caused by free-radical damage to the sulphur-containing proteins in the lens. The lens protects itself from free-radical damage with antioxidants (free-radical scavengers) such as vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamins B2, E and C, zinc, selenium and bioflavonoids such as quercetin.
Studies show that cataract formation may be slowed and visual disturbances improved by increasing the intake of antioxidants. This can be achieved at least partially through diet:
- Avoid sugar, white-flour products, milk, high-fat foods and processed foods, (all of which are sources of free radicals)
- Eat more legumes, garlic and onions which are rich in quercetin
- Eat more yellow vegetables (for carotenes)
- Eat more fresh fruits and raw vegetables for their vitamin C content
Other foods which are high in many nutrients that help to slow the development of cataracts are:
- Water chestnuts
- Black beans
Fresh juices can also help, such as combinations of carrot, spinach, beetroot, cucumber, endive and parsley. Fresh blueberries are a very rich source of bioflavonoids and vitamins that help prevent cataracts, so a bowl of blueberries every day is a good policy for anyone with or prone to cataracts.
Nutritional supplement treatment options
People with low blood levels of antioxidants and those who don’t have a regular and varied intake of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables will tend to be at higher risk of developing cataracts. “Eating the rainbow” every day is a good policy to protect yourself – choose fruit and vegetables every day that cover all the colours of the rainbow.
Vitamin B2 and vitamin B3 are needed to protect glutathione, an important antioxidant in the eye. Vitamin B2 deficiency has been linked to cataracts.
The major antioxidants in the lens of the eye are vitamin C and glutathione (a complex amino acid). Glutathione levels are low in all cases of cataracts and can be increased by supplementation. Reduced glutathione as a supplement has been proven to increase glutathione levels enough to reduce the severity of cataracts. Vitamin C is needed to activate vitamin E, which in turn activates glutathione. Both nutrients are important for healthy vision.
Vitamin C levels in the eye decrease with age. However, supplementing with vitamin C will help to prevent the natural decrease and has been linked to a lower risk of developing cataracts. Studies show that vitamin C levels are greatly reduced or even absent altogether in a lens that is afflicted with a cataract.
Low blood levels of vitamin E have been linked to increased risk of forming cataracts. Research has shown that people who took vitamin E supplements over a five-year period had less than half the risk of developing cataracts, compared to the control group.
People who eat a lot of spinach and kale, which are high in lutein and zeaxanthin – yellow/orange pigments similar to beta-carotene – have been reported to be at low risk of developing cataracts. Lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene are all antioxidants. Lutein is present in the lens of the eye and research has shown that supplementing with lutein for one year significantly improved visual function in a group of people with age-related cataracts.
The flavonoid quercetin may also help by blocking sorbitol accumulation in the eye. This may be especially helpful for people with associated diabetes. Other bioflavonoids, especially bilberry, pycnogenol (from pine bark) and grape pip are also high in flavonoids which protect both the lens and retina from oxidative damage.
Article contributed by Dr Tracy S Gates, DO, DIBAK, L.C.P.H., Consultant, Pure Bio Ltd. Copyright © Pure Bio Ltd 2021. All rights reserved.
Pure Bio Ltd are a leading UK supplier of the highest quality PURE nutritional supplements, based in Horsham, West Sussex. Visit www.purebio.co.uk for all your nutritional supplement needs.