Cataracts



Cataract is the clouding of the lens of the eye, which focuses light. It is the leading cause of blindness. Once developed, surgical removal is required to restore visual acuity, however, a Nutritarian diet aids in the prevention of cataracts.

 
  • Overview
  • Action Plan
  • Ask The Doctor

Overview


Visual impairment affects over 3.4 million people in the U.S, ages 40 and above. Cataracts end up being one of the leading causes with a prevalence of 21.2%. Having diabetes increases this risk to 31.8%.1 The prevalence rates increase with age, climbing to as high as 60% in patients older than 75.2

Cataracts presents as painless, progressive decline in vision. Vision becomes blurry or dull, and viewing lights may cause a glare. An opaque lens is visible on examination with an ophthalmoscope. This results from damage to the protein structure of the lens. Risk factors include:

  • Older age
  • Poor nutrition3—diets low in vitamins and carotenoids like lutein
  • Sun exposure
  • Chronic steroid use
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking3
  • History of significant eye trauma

Nutrition plays an important role in the prevention of cataracts. Carotenoids like lutein are concentrated in the lens. Consumption of dark leafy green vegetables; red, orange, and yellow vegetables, which provide sufficient lutein; as well as vitamin C, vitamin A, and beta-carotene are associated with eye health. These nutrients work synergistically with phytochemicals to decrease inflammation, weight gain, and the resultant metabolic disorder that increases the risk of cataracts.

 
References
  1. Prevalence of visual impairment and selected eye diseases among persons aged >/=50 years with and without diabetes--United States, 2002. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2004, 53:1069-1071.
  2. Acosta R, Hoffmeister L, Roman R, et al. [Systematic review of population-based studies of the prevalence of cataracts]. Arch Soc Esp Oftalmol 2006, 81:509-516.
  3. Mares JA, Voland R, Adler R, et al. Healthy diets and the subsequent prevalence of nuclear cataract in women. Arch Ophthalmol 2010, 128:738-749.

Action Plan


Diet

  • A Nutritarian diet supplies the micronutrients that support eye health and can help prevent the development of cataracts.
  • Higher levels of lutein, found in leafy green vegetables, are associated with lower rates of cataracts.1 The same effect is not found with the use of vitamin supplementation.

Sun exposure

  • Avoid mid-day sun exposure.
  • Wear sunglasses with UV protection.

Surgery

Once a cataract develops, it cannot resolve with nutrition alone. Surgery is usually required and is a same-day procedure. The opaque lens is removed and replaced with a man-made lens. Restoration of vision occurs quickly.

 
References
  1. Moeller SM, Voland R, Tinker L, et al. Associations between age-related nuclear cataract and lutein and zeaxanthin in the diet and serum in the Carotenoids in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, an Ancillary Study of the Women's Health Initiative. Arch Ophthalmol 2008, 126:354-364.

Ask The Doctor


The following are sample questions from the Ask the Doctor Community Platinum and higher members can post their health questions directly to Dr. Fuhrman. (All members can browse questions and answers.)

Q.

I just got some bad news from my optometrist. The haze that has developed in my eyes is from cataracts. Pictures of my eyes from two years ago show no cataracts. Is there anything on a Nutritarian diet that could cause this rapid development of cataracts? The last six months I have been eating so healthfully; why would cataracts rapidly form now? This is not what I would expect to happen.

A.

Cataracts are prevented by high micronutrient eating and avoidance of mid-day and excessive sun exposure. In this case, you caused too much damage in your earlier life to inhibit their expression with just 6 months of healthy eating. The susceptibility to sun damage to the lens can increase with aging.

 
Q.

Can a Nutritarian diet halt the progression of cataracts? If that can be done, I would find that preferable to surgery. I am aware that cataract surgery is very successful but there is still a risk, and if the correction I get with new glasses is acceptable, I would prefer that route. What specific foods would you recommend? Would you suggest any supplements?

A.

Supplements and even diet can protect the vision but not have an effect on cataracts once they are formed. Sun damage is number one. A healthy diet and avoidance of the sun may help prevent or slow progression, but I have never seen a case reverse.