June 21, 2016

New study shows that a healthy diet may delay onset and reduce severity.

Cataracts are a clouding of the eye lens. They occur naturally with age; however, a new study published in the journal Ophthalmology suggests that a diet rich in vitamin C may delay cataracts and keep them from worsening.

By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. And cataracts remain the leading cause of blindness worldwide.


What does the study tell us about diet and cataracts?

The study followed more than 1,000 pairs of 60-year-old British female twins. Researchers found that study subjects who consumed high amounts of vitamin C in their diets had a one-third less risk of cataracts over 10 years. According to the study, however, taking a vitamin C supplement, rather than increasing intake through diet, did not reduce the risk of cataracts.


Why does a diet rich in vitamin C possibly reduce the risk of cataracts?

“The fluid in the eye already possesses a high concentration of vitamin C, which helps prevent the oxidative process that contributes to cataract development,” says Jeffrey Kammer, M.D., an associate professor of ophthalmology and a physician at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute. “If you can further increase that concentration, its antioxidant potential could increase as well.”


What else can I do to reduce the risk or severity of cataracts?

“While it is hard to definitively prove that any specific lifestyle or dietary change can impact cataract progression, there is research available that allows for educated recommendations,” Kammer says.

  • Quit smoking — “Tobacco contains hundreds of substances that increase oxidative stress within the eye,” he explains.
  • Reduce alcohol intake — “There are several studies linking excessive alcohol intake to an increased risk of cataract progression,” Kammer says. “This may be from a direct effect of the alcohol byproducts on the human lens, or possibly due to the secondary malnutrition that is often seen in heavy drinkers.”
  • Wear sunglasses — Kammer recommends wearing sunglasses labeled as 99 to 100 percent UV absorbent and a brimmed hat whenever you are exposed to sunlight for a long period of time.
  • Eat healthy — “If you eat a diet that favors fruits, vegetables and legumes, you will likely be consuming a diet that is rich in a multitude of nutrients that have powerful antioxidant properties,” Kammer explains.
  • Manage health issues — “If you have other medical problems, like diabetes or certain forms of autoimmune diseases (like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis), you are more likely to have earlier cataract development,” Kammer says. He recommends aggressively managing those conditions to help prevent secondary effects.

With 10 locations across the state, the Vanderbilt Eye Institute treats conditions like cataracts in both adults and children.