Summer is officially here and probably the last thing you have on your mind is protecting your eyes from developing cataracts. Yet, June is Cataract Awareness Month and for good reason. Bright summer sun is one of the worst offenders of things that can put your eyes at higher risk for developing cataracts. So read on about how to protect your eyes from summer sun as well as all the other things you can do to protect your eyes from developing cataracts.
Cataract Awareness – Know Your Risk
Cataracts currently affect nearly 23 million Americans and it is the #1 cause of vision loss throughout the world. Secondarily, cataracts can also lead to an increased rate of falls and serious fractures from impaired vision. Yet, many people really don’t know what a cataract is or what it does. That’s what Prevent Blindness America’s June’s Cataract Awareness Month is all about – educating the public about the significance of cataracts and what you can do to prevent them. First, let me tell you what cataracts are…
Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of your eye making it harder for you to see clearly and making you especially sensitive to light glare. This clouding occurs when the structural proteins of your eyes – alpha crystallin – begins to clump together and form little deposits – or cataracts. These can grow in size and eventually cause complete loss of vision. The presence of cataracts can cause the following symptoms:
Symptoms of Cataracts
- Blurred or clouded vision – like there’s a film over your eye.
- Lights seem too dim for reading or close-up work – you may become particularly sensitive to strong lights. Car headlights, or traffic lights, might start to develop a “star” appearance to them.
- Needing to change your eye glasses prescription often.
- The cataract may even be visible to you – it may appear like a whitish/yellowish spot in the black center of your eye.
What makes these proteins start to build-up into a cataract in the first place? Well, a number of things can cause that to happen.
Generally, protein clumping in your eyes is caused from free radical damage which begins to increase as you get older – especially if your diet is particularly deficient in certain key nutrients. Free radical damage is the result of tissues oxidizing – kind of like the way rust affects a car. There are a number of things that can cause free radical damage – many of which you can avoid. They include:
- Strong sunlight. Going out in bright summer sun without adequate protection from sunglasses.
- Poor nutrition. If your diet is deficient in specific nutrients, your eye health and vision could suffer. These include Vitamins C, B vitamins – especially B6, B9 and B12, Vitamins A and E. Other substances like astazanthin, lutein, bilberry, alpha lipoic acid, L-carnosine, glutathione, essential fatty acids (Omega-3’s), melatonin are strong antioxidants that can help prevent free radical oxidizing of eye tissues. Minerals zinc, selenium, chromium have also been research proven as protective against cataract formation. There are many eye-health specific supplement products available that you can take on a daily basis and include most of these substances.
- Certain medications. Statins – cholesterol lowering drugs – have been found in research to contribute to cataract formation.
- Environmental exposures. Along with strong sunlight, other environmental pollutants can cause free radical oxidation of eye tissues. These include smoking (#1 worst offender), working around spray paints, chemicals, etc without adequate eye protection.
How Can You Prevent Cataracts?
Some ophthalmologists will tell you that developing cataracts is a foregone conclusion of getting older. They say that everyone who gets older will develop cataracts and there’s nothing you can do to prevent them. I disagree with that as there are cases around the world in which very young children develop cataracts, so they can’t entirely, be a function of aging. I personally think the answer lies in nutritional deficiencies, that likely increase with aging, and how much exposure to free radicals you have.
Most ophthalmologists also say that surgical removal of cataracts is the only effective way to treat them. Yet, groundbreaking research out of Russia, China, Sicily, and even the U.S. (University of Missouri) have shown that n-acetyl carnosine, and a sister-amino acid n-acetyl cysteine, applied directly to the eyes in drops have been very effective in reducing, and in some cases completely clearing, cataract formations. Both have very strong antioxidant properties that are delivered to the eye directly. These drops are available online, under names like Can-C, Nu-Eyes, et al, but have not been approved by the FDA as treatment for cataracts. In general, here are some ways you can prevent, or decrease worsening of cataracts:
DIET: Many ophthalmologists also say that what’s bad for your heart is also bad for your eyes. This means that diets loaded with heavy animal fats not only build up cholesterol deposits in your heart arteries but in your eye veins as well, which can reduce blood flow. Reduced blood flow results in not enough tissue-preserving nutrients and oxygen reaching your eye tissues. So, watch your levels of saturated fats and stay completely away from trans-fats. Supplement with extra essentially fatty acids (Omega-3’s) and/or get them in EFA-rich fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna 3 times a week.
Glutathione. Deficiency in glutathione has been seen in many degenerative eye disorders like cataracts and AMD (age-related macular degeneration). Glutathione is a major antioxidant that boosts the power of all other antioxidants. Getting enough glutathione in your diet (eggs, kale, garlic, eggs, yogurt, broccoli, onions, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, watercress, wheat germ, oat flakes, watermelon, poultry and pork) can keep your antioxidant levels high.
Herbs and Botanicals. Natural substances like the herb eyebright have been used for years in Europe and China for eye health. Bilberry is a bioflavonoid research proven to help night vision; rutin, found in green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits and other tart fruits like cranberry and mulberry, are both helpful in keeping eye tissues from breaking down.
Minerals. Zinc, copper and selenium have been shown in research to be helpful in fighting free radical damage from UV blue light of the sun that can up your risk of cataract formation.
Spices. Kitchen spices like turmeric, garlic and saffron have been used in Indian, Russian, and Chinese cultures for many years as substances that promote and maintain clear vision. Raw garlic crushed into a vegetable drink is reported to help clear the eye’s lens from the crystalline deposits that become cataracts. Turmeric is a strong antioxidant that fights free radicals.
EXERCISE: Believe it or not, regular exercise helps prevent cataracts by reducing stress and decreasing inflammation. Inflammation is one of the biggest promoters of free radical damage throughout your entire body.
Good vision is important to you all your life but even moreso as you get older. It can help you stay active and independent as well as help prevent life-threatening falls and fractures. Do all you can to protect your vision against cataracts and other degenerative eye conditions – get on a nutrient rich, eye-healthy diet, stop smoking, exercise and stay away from environmental pollutants as much as possible. And don’t forget your sunglasses!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News
Carolyn M. Machan, Patricia K. Hrynchak, Elizabeth L. Irving. Age-Related Cataract Is Associated with Type 2 Diabetes and Statin Use. Optometry and Vision Science, 2012; 89 (8): 1165 DOI: 10.1097/OPX.0b013e3182644cd1
Food for the Eyes, http://www.naturaleyecare.com/eye-disease-prevention/food-sources-for-nutrients.asp
New Evidence that Popular Dietary Supplement May Help Prevent/Treat Cataracts, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090715101443.htm
Cataract Awareness Month http://www.preventblindness.org/cataract-awareness-month