A Blinding Diet: Nutrition and Cataracts

Age-related cataract, a condition in which the eye’s natural lens becomes cloudy, is a leading cause of blindness in the world. The treatment for cataracts involves removing the lens, then replacing it with an intraocular lens (IOL) during cataract surgery.

While the exact cause of cataracts remains unknown, experts believe that oxidative stress and unhealthy diets harm particular enzymes and proteins in the eye’s natural lens. As a result, the patient’s vision becomes cloudy, hazy, or unclear.

On the clear side, eating a healthy diet rich in antioxidants and vitamins seems to have an association with a reduced risk of cataracts or their progression.

The Bridge Connecting Cataracts and Diet, and Oxidative Stress

Starting with oxidative stress, it occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals or toxic byproducts roaming the body, as well as the antioxidants that combat them. Free radicals are atoms (molecules) that are reactive with other molecules in the body, mainly because they have unpaired electrons.

Inside the body, a free radical is often an oxygen molecule that self-stabilizes. It takes an electron from another molecule, which then tries to steal an electron from another molecule, and so forth. Free radicals weaken and destroy the body by stripping electrons from the normal healthy cells of organs and tissues. Experts refer to this process of taking electrons from healthy cells as oxidation.

When it comes to the eye, oxidation impacts proteins and fats in the lens to a point in which the lens becomes damaged, forming a cataract. Stopping free radical damage with healthy consumables — specifically food options containing antioxidants — may play a role in slowing down this vision-impairing process.

Free radicals that harm the eyes and the rest of the body may arise from eating unhealthy foods, constant exposure to pollution or chemicals, using tobacco products, and basking in ultraviolet radiation. Some free radicals emerge from normal daily metabolism, meaning people without risk factors also need antioxidants in healthy foods.

Healthy Foods for Cataract Prevention

Those who are consistent with following a healthy diet — which includes an array of colorful fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — may exhibit a reduced risk of cataracts. Examples are antioxidant vitamins and phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables, such as in A, C, and E, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Eating fish, which is a vital source of omega-3 fatty acids, has also been linked to a decreased risk of cataracts or their progression.

Below are examples of recent studies that suggest a healthy diet and certain eye vitamins may help prevent cataracts:

  • According to a 2014 study from Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, a diet high in carbohydrates may raise a person’s cataract risk. Review of the eating habits of over 1,600 adults showed that men and women in the top 25 percent for total carbohydrate consumption had up to three times the risk for cataracts than individuals in the lowest 25 percent for carbohydrate intake.
  • A large study involving adult women in Iowa, Oregon, and Wisconsin published in Archives of Ophthalmology learned that eating foods rich in different vitamins and minerals might delay cataract formation. In a previous study published in the same journal, the same researchers noted that a diet rich in lutein and zeaxanthin have a connection with reduced prevalence of cataracts in older women.
  • In an extensive study of female health professionals by researchers at Harvard Medical School, it was found that higher dietary consumption of lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin E from both food sources and supplements significantly lowered the risk of cataract development.
  • According to a 10-year study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, greater intakes of vitamin C, or the combined absorption of various antioxidants reduced the risk of cataracts in older adults. The study involved more than 2,400 older adults living in Australia.
  • In a Japanese study, the researchers associated senile cataract formation to oxidative stress. They noted a reduction in antioxidants in the lenses of affected eyes.
  • In 2014, a group of researchers in Sweden published the results of their study, which summarized the connection between all antioxidants and age-related cataracts. Over 30,000 women aged 49 and older answered a dietary questionnaire and underwent examination for age-related cataract formation for an average period of 7.7 years. The researchers found that the women whose diet included the highest total antioxidant capacity (TAC) were less susceptible to developing cataracts compared to those whose dietary intake was low in antioxidants. The primary contributors to dietary TAC in the study were fruits and vegetables (44.3 percent), whole grains (17.0 percent) and caffeine (15.1 percent).

It is crucial to understand that before consuming eye vitamins and other nutritional supplements, always consult your optometrist or ophthalmologist. In some circumstances, excessive intake of a specific vitamin or nutrient could have severe implications on your health.

The Right Diet for Your Eyes

So, what kind of foods are good for your eyes? 

A healthy diet offers nutritional benefits to the eyes. The cumulative calories eaten should be enough to keep you at a normal weight, based on your activity level and metabolism.

To be specific, a healthy diet for the eyes includes: leafy greens

  • Five to nine servings of vegetables and fruits daily
  • A minimum of three servings of 100 percent whole grains per day
  • Two servings of fatty fish every week

Dark leafy greens and colorful fruits are excellent sources of eye-friendly antioxidants. They also carry significant amounts of folic acid and calcium, which are essential nutrients that may help lessen the risk of cataracts.

To maintain a nutritious diet that preserves your eye health, it is likewise important to avoid processed meats, fried foods, sugary treats, and carbonated drinks. These foods appear to increase the risk for cataracts, obesity, and a myriad of other health problems. Reducing your sodium intake is also recommended, as researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia have found scientific evidence connecting high salt intake to an increased risk for cataracts.

A Final Word

Once you become accustomed to eating delicious and nutritious fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, and other healthy foods, you won’t miss the sugary, salty, and oily foods that damage your overall health. Plus, your reward is both a healthy body and a lifetime of good vision.

Here at Arizona Retinal Specialists, we are a team of doctors who deliver high-quality vision correction procedures in Sun City, Arizona and the surrounding areas. Our mission is to improve the health of your vision. To schedule an appointment, call us now at 623-474-3937 (EYES).


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