Cataracts are a common cause of blindness and usually age-related. The older you get, the more likely you are to develop this condition. At least half of Americans over the age of 80 have cataracts or have undergone surgery to have them removed. Symptoms don’t usually show immediately, meaning regular visits to your optician help in the early detection and treatment of this eye condition.
Continue reading to find out if eating a healthy diet helps in reducing the risk of cataracts.
What Are Cataracts?
A cataract is when the clear lens of the eye begins to cloud. It usually develops due to aging or can be caused by an injury. Inherited genetic disorders that cause other health issues can increase the chances of developing cataracts. Previous eye operations or medical conditions such as diabetes can increase the risk of getting cataracts as well.
Individuals who have been taking steroid medications for a long time are at higher risk of the condition. Other factors that can increase the risk of cataracts include smoking, obesity, extended exposure to sunlight, high blood pressure, and excessive alcohol drinking.
People with cataracts tend to have clouded vision, making it hard to drive a car, read, and read expressions on someone’s face. Usually, a cataract develops gradually, and you won’t even notice it in its early stages. However, as the years pass, it will eventually affect your vision.
Common symptoms of cataracts include having difficulty seeing at night, sensitivity to light, seeing halos around light, and clouded blurred or dim vision. Sufferers may also experience the need to change their eyeglass or contact lens prescription more frequently, fading or yellowing of colors, and double vision in one eye.
During the early stages of the condition, the cloudiness caused by cataracts may only affect a small part of the eyes, and vision loss may not be noticeable. The bigger your cataracts become, the more cloudy your lens will be, and they will start compromising your vision. If you experience sudden changes to your vision, eye pain, and headaches, see an eye doctor immediately.
Does “Eating Right” Reduce Cataract Risk?
At the moment, the only treatment for cataracts is surgically removing the cloudy lens. Doctors will then replace the affected lens with an intraocular lens (IOL) during the surgery. According to experts, oxidative stress can damage some enzymes and proteins in the natural lens of the eyes, causing the lens to get cloudy. There are also studies suggesting that eating a healthy diet rich in antioxidants and specific vitamins can lower the risk of cataracts or slower progression of the condition.
Oxidative stress is when there is an imbalance between damaging free radicals inside your body and the antioxidants that control their levels. Free radicals pertain to atoms or molecules highly reactive with other atoms and molecules because they do not have paired electrons. Typically, a free radical is an oxygen that stabilizes itself by taking an electron from another molecule, which then also tries to get an electron from another molecule, and so on. Free radicals can damage your body by taking electrons from healthy organ cells and tissues. Oxidation refers to this process of obtaining electrons from healthy cells.
Eating unhealthy foods, smoking, exposure to chemicals or pollution, and ultraviolet radiation can contribute to free radicals in your body. They can also occur from your daily metabolism, meaning people who don’t have the said risk factors still need antioxidants from nourishing foods.
Aside from seeing a specialist regularly for an eye exam, eating a diet that includes a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can lower your risk of developing cataracts. Vitamins A, C, and E as well as lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidant vitamins and phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables that can reduce your chances of getting cataracts. Consuming fishes rich in omega-3 fatty acids has also been related to the possible reduced risk of cataracts or their progression.
However, no studies are supporting the link between nutritional supplements and lower cataract risk. For instance, two long-term Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2) did not find any association between taking supplements with vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc and cataract prevention. The said nutrients may help with cataract prevention, but experts believe that you should obtain it from eating a healthy diet instead of taking supplements.
More Tips to Help Reduce Your Cataract Risk
Know Which Food to Include and Avoid
Eating around five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily contributes to good eye health. Experts suggest eating at least three servings of 100% whole grains every day and at least two servings of fish every week. You should also only consume calories enough to maintain a healthy weight, depending on how active you are and your metabolism.
You can get essential antioxidants for your eyes from dark greens and colorful fruits and vegetables. These food items have folic acid and calcium, which are vital nutrients that may help lower the risk of cataracts. Include seeds and nuts in your daily meals as they are excellent sources of vitamin E, which helps protect the cells in your eyes from free radicals.
As much as possible, avoid sugary snacks, soft drinks, and fried or processed foods. All these types of food are related to higher cataract risk, obesity, and other health issues. It would also be great for your health to reduce your sodium consumption. A University of Sydney study found evidence that high salt intake may increase your chances of developing cataracts.
Quit Smoking and Reduce Alcohol Consumption
If you are not smoking, it’s best not to start. Smokers can ask for suggestions on how they can quit from their doctor. There are medications, counseling, and other strategies available to help these individuals. One more thing that you should try to minimize in your diet is alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol has been found to increase the risk of cataracts.
Protect Your Eyes From the Harmful Effects of Ultraviolet Rays
Another thing that can help reduce your risk of cataracts is protecting your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When heading outside, you can wear a wide-brimmed hat as it keeps your eyes protected from direct sunlight. It pays to invest in polarized sunglasses since they completely block UV rays. What’s great about this eyewear is that it comes in a wide selection of styles, colors, and shades.
If you wear eyeglasses, you should also consider getting photochromic lenses. These lenses are clear when you are inside and darken automatically when exposed to sunlight. They also provide 100% UV protection. Contact lens wearers can benefit from UV-blocking contacts. However, these contact lenses only protect the part of the eye they are covering. They do not offer protection to your conjunctiva, sclera, and eyelids like UV-blocking sunglasses and eyeglasses with photochromic lenses.
See Your Eye Doctor Regularly
Regular eye exams help with the detection of cataracts in their early stages. Your eye doctor will tell you how frequently you need to get a comprehensive eye examination. Usually, people who are over age 65 should get their eyes checked every one to two years. If you are at high risk for eye diseases, your eye specialist may suggest more frequent checkups.