Americans currently have a 50% chance of developing cataracts by the age of 80. I would like to see these odds improved by the time I'm 80. Nutrition offers a promising route to this goal. Most cataracts develop slowly, perhaps over a period of decades, and are considered a somewhat normal part of aging. Reactive oxygen species have been blamed for numerous adverse effects of aging, and antioxidant nutrients get credit for protecting us. The “ace” vitamins (A, C, and E) plus zinc and beta-carotene have been associated with lower incidence of cataracts in several studies.
In the Blue Mountain Eye Study, 2,464 subjects aged 49 or older were followed for up to 10 years in Australia. Their diets were analyzed for nutritional content and their eye health evaluated with detailed examinations. From statistical analysis of the data, researchers concluded that higher intakes of Vitamin C and other antioxidants protect the eyes against cataracts. According to the authors of Ref. 1, similar results were reported from the Beaver Dam Eye Study, the Roche European American Cataract Trial, the Dysplasia Trial of the Linxian Cataract Studies and the Centrum in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study.
Other nutrients have demonstrated potential benefits for preventing cataracts in lab or epidemiological studies:
1. Onion juice;
2. Soy isoflavones;
3. Green tea catechins;
4. Lutein, found in dark green leafy vegetables and egg yolks;
5. Zeaxanthin, found in a variety of vegetables and fruits;
6. Anthocyanins, found in blueberries, blackberries, and other dark colored fruits and vegetables;
7. Curcumin, from the spice turmeric which is commonly used in Indian food;
8. Resveratrol, found in grapes and sold as a dietary supplement;
9. Ginkgo biloba, an herb sold as a dietary supplement; and
10. Aminoguanidine, sold as a dietary supplement.
Besides age, smoking and UV exposure are high risks for cataracts. So clearly, there are things we can do to protect our own eyes.
Tan AG et al, “Antioxidant nutrient intake and the long-term incidence of age-related cataract: the Blue Mountains Eye Study”, Am J Clin Nutr 2008; 87:1899-905.
Manikandan R et al, “Anti-cataractogenic effect of curcumin and aminoguanidine against selenium-induced oxidative stress in the eye lens of Wistar rat pups: An in vitro study using isolated lens”, Chem Biol Interact. 2009 Oct 7; 181(2): 202-9.
Javadzadeh A et al, “Preventive effect of onion juice on selenite-induced experimental cataract”, Indian J Ophthalmol. 2009 May-Jun; 57(3): 185-9.
Lu MP et al, “Dietary soy isoflavones increase insulin secretion and prevent the development of diabetic cataracts in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats”, Nutr Res. 2008 Jul; 28(7): 464-71.
Rhone M et al, “Phytochemicals and age-related eye disease”, Nutr Rev. 2008 Aug; 66(8): 465-72.
Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.