Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss among adults 55 and older, and by age 80, nearly half of all adults will develop at least one cataract. As we age, our eyes undergo natural wear and tear, resulting in the clouding of the eye’s natural lens. This clouding is known as cataracts and is a normal part of the aging process.
“I like to compare cataracts to the clear plastic window in the back of a convertible car,” said board certified ophthalmologist Dr. Samuel Boles, “After years of exposure to sun and weather, the plastic becomes yellow and cloudy.”
However, we may have a new fight in our battle against cataracts – our diet.
“Make a colorful plate, especially with greens, blues, and reds,” said Dr. James McDonnell, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Loyola University Health System. “Certain foods have distinct benefits for the eyes in addition to overall health, including many of the trendy superfoods such as kale, broccoli, and sweet potatoes.
How a Diet Rich in Vitamin C can Protect Healthy Vision
According to a new study published in the journal Ophthalmology, a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of cataracts. A team of researchers from King’s College in London studied 1,000 pairs of female twins from the UK Twins registry, each about 60 years old at the time they filled out a detailed food questionnaire. Researchers next scanned each participant’s eyes using digital imaging to measure cataract progression.
The study found that those participants who regularly ate vitamin C and roughly two servings of fruit and of vegetables daily were 20 percent less likely to develop cataracts than those who ate a less nutritious diet.
Researchers followed up with 324 of the twin pairs 10 years later and found that those who had originally reported eating more vitamin C now had a 33 percent lower risk of developing cataracts.
“We found no beneficial effect from supplements, only from the vitamin C in the diet,” said Dr. Chris Hammond, the study’s lead author and chair of ophthalmology at King’s College. ”This probably means that it is not just vitamin C but everything about a healthy diet that is good for us and good for aging.”
Based on his findings, Dr. Hammond now believes that a person’s genetic makeup accounts for 35 percent of the risk of cataract progression, while diet and environmental factors account for the other 65 percent.
“While we cannot totally avoid developing cataracts, we may be able to delay their onset and keep them from worsening significantly by eating a diet rich in vitamin C,” said Dr. Hammond. “The findings of this study could have significant impact, particularly for the ageing population globally by suggesting that simple dietary changes such as increased intake of fruit and vegetables as part of a healthier diet could help protect them from cataracts.”
Vitamin C Alone Cannot Protect Your Vision
While regularly eating foods rich in vitamin C and other key nutrients can help protect healthy vision, the best way to ensure your eyes stay healthy is with periodic eye exams. Furthermore, according to the National Eye Institute, treating cataracts before they worsen is the key to preventing the spread from one eye to another. This is why the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends that people between the ages of three and 39 have their eyes examined every couple of years. At the age of 40, everyone should have a baseline eye screening. Based on the results of the initial screening, an ophthalmologist will prescribe the necessary intervals for follow-up exams. Seniors – over the age of 65 – should have complete eye exams every one to two years.
The Anne Arundel Eye Center, led by board certified ophthalmologist Dr. Samuel Boles, is a regional leader in the diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma and cataracts. Staffed by caring and knowledgeable professionals, AAEC’s state-of-the-art treatment center is dedicated to making the best eye care accessible to everyone.
If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Samuel Boles, Dr. Nicole Kershner, Dr. Kathryn Turner, and the eye care specialists here at AAEC by calling 410-224-2010. AAEC is staffed by caring and knowledgeable professionals who will help guide you on your healing journey.
Hammon CJ, Yonova-Doing E, and Gilbert CE, et al. Genetic and Dietary Factors Influencing the Progression of Nuclear Cataract. Ophthalmology. 2016.
Loyola University Health System. Department of Ophthalmology. What to Eat for Good Eye Health from a Loyola Ophthalmologist. Loyola Medicine. 30 Mar. 2015. Web.