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The role of Nutrition

Summer is here and we are all spending lot of time outdoors. As the ozone above us is gradually depleted, we lose our natural protection from ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet or UV rays, are absorbed by the lens of the eye and can result in the formation of damaging chemicals called free radicals. These dangerous compounds can lead to many health problems such as premature aging, skin cancer and cataracts.

Cataracts, a worldwide problem

Cataracts develop when the proteins in the lens of the eye are damaged, causing them to become translucent or opaque.

Several uncontrollable factors may increase the risk of developing cataracts, including:

  • Age
  • Family history
  • Ethnicity (African Americans have a higher risk of developing and becoming blind from cataracts.)
  • Some studies also suggest that women may be at a slightly higher risk than men.

However, research shows we can control several risk factors for cataracts by changing certain behaviors, including:

  • Not smoking
  • Reducing exposure to sunlight by wearing UVA/UVB protective eyewear and wide-brimmed hats
  • Controlling other diseases such as diabetes
  • Eating a healthy diet

How do UV rays affect cataracts?

UV rays can damage our vision every day, deteriorating the lenses of our eyes. Too much time in the sun can speed cataract development, so it is important to limit your time in direct sunlight. Not wearing proper eye protection is another culprit, so keep in mind that sunglasses are equally important in the winter as well as the summer. Daily choices that you make can protect your precious eyesight. Hats, wraparound sunglasses and lenses that offer 100 percent UVA and UVB protection can help prevent, or at least delay, cataract formation.

Several research studies show that the antioxidant properties of vitamins C and E may protect against the development and progression of cataracts. Early evidence also suggests that the carotenoids lutein (pronounced loo-teen) and zeaxanthin (pronounced zee-uh-zan-thin), which are also antioxidants, may also help protect against cataracts.

Research on antioxidant vitamins Some recent studies have shown that antioxidants vitamins C and E may decrease the development or progression of cataracts:

The Nutrition and Vision Project found that higher intakes of vitamin C reduced the risk for cortical and nuclear cataracts. Results also showed that people who used vitamin C and E supplements for more than 10 years decreased the progression of nuclear cataracts. A recent analysis of results from a national dietary study (Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) found that higher levels of vitamin C in the diet were associated with a lower risk of cataracts. In the Nurses' Health Study, cataract surgery was lower among women who took vitamin C supplements for 10 years or longer. The Roche European American Cataract Trial found that taking an antioxidant supplement with vitamins C and E and beta-carotene led to a small decrease in the progression of cataracts in less than three years. In the Longitudinal Study of Cataract, taking a vitamin E supplement for at least a year was associated with a reduced risk of nuclear cataracts becoming more severe. The five-year follow-up to the Beaver Dam Eye Study showed that people using multivitamins or any supplement containing vitamins C and E had a reduced risk for nuclear and cortical cataracts.

What You Need to Know

Given the positive association between nutrition and cataracts, it's probably a good idea to increase the amount of certain antioxidants in your daily diet. Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, as currently recommended by the National Cancer Institute and U.S. Department of Agriculture, can provide more than 100 mg of vitamin C and 5 to 6 mg of carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin. Eating two servings of nuts and seeds can provide 8 to 14 mg of vitamin E. See the tables below for good food sources of these nutrients.

However, the majority of people in the U.S. are not eating five servings of fruits and vegetables and good food sources of vitamin E each day. The average daily diet contains approximately 100 mg of vitamin C, 1 to 7 mg lutein and zeaxanthin, and 8 mg vitamin E. If you find it difficult to increase the level of these antioxidants and carotenoids in your diet, consider taking multivitamin/mineral and eye health supplements containing these nutrients. Talk to us and we can help you find the right supplement.

Photo by Ethan Dow on Unsplash