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San Diego Optometrist | Encinitas Optometrist | LASIK | Dr Anshel

Smart Medicine for Your Eyes

Cataracts
 

Cataract

CataractA cataract (CAT-ah-rackt) is a clouding of the lens within the eye. This clouding can be partial or complete, so not all cataracts interfere very much with vision. However, the type of cataract that occurs with advancing age is generally progressive, so that a small cataract that doesn’t cause much of a problem will probably become a large cataract that obscures vision at some point, perhaps a few years down the road.

Cataracts are not limited to the aged, although so-called ‘senile’ cataracts are the most common type of cataract. The National Eye Institute estimates that by age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery. It also estimates that cataracts affect more than 20.5 million Americans age 40 and over, or about one in every six people in this age range.

You may have heard that cataracts can also be present at birth. They can happen, though it’s pretty rare. They’re called ‘congenital’ and are sometimes caused by the mother’s having contracted German measles, mumps, chickenpox or certain other infectious diseases during her pregnancy; they can also be inherited.

Some diseases, injuries and a class of anti-inflammatory drugs called steroids can also cause cataracts at any time of life. You can also develop a cataract after being exposed to radiation (from many X rays, for example), from constant exposure to infrared light (called “glassblower’s cataract” because this profession used to work with infrared light without eye protection) or from being hit with a high-voltage current (lightning or electrocution) through the head. (Of course, if you’re struck by lightning or electrocuted, cataracts would probably be the least of your concerns!) Recent research suggests that many years of extreme exposure to ultraviolet light (UV), which is part of sunlight but is beyond the human visible spectrum, can also play a part in the development of cataracts. This is because the lens is a UV filter and absorbs most of the UV light entering the eye so that none of it reaches the retina. Another study suggests that cigarette smoking may be linked to the formation of cataracts; the eye damage seems to be from the effect of certain chemicals being transported internally to the lens when the person smokes, not from smoke in the environment.

So, you may wonder, are cataracts an inevitable consequence of advancing age, or are they the result of some action that can be changed?

Researchers in the field of aging are asking this question about many conditions previously thought to be the unavoidable price of living a long life. The answer with cataracts, as with most conditions, is that they are probably a combination of the aging process and the environment in which the person has been living for many years. Years of exposure to ultraviolet light, radiation and various as-yet-unidentified environmental “insults,” such as smoking, eventually catch up with us as we age; at the same time, the eye’s lens fibers begin to break down and are more vulnerable to stresses from the outside world. You may be able to prevent or postpone the development of a cataract by protecting your eyes against ultraviolet light with a good pair of sunglasses, eating a nutritious and balanced diet, limiting your exposure to infrared light and radiation from X-rays and other sources, and by not smoking.

Conventional Treatment

When the cataract is interfering significantly with your vision and your life, it’s usually time to consider surgery (not every cataract gets to this point). Cataract surgery currently is the most frequently performed surgical procedure in the United States, with more than 1.5 million people having cataract surgery each year. Worldwide, an estimated 8.7 million cataract procedures are performed annually. You may have heard that you have to wait until a cataract is “ripe” before it can be surgically removed. This was true years ago, but new surgical techniques have made it possible to remove a cataract at any time as long as your doctor feels you are in good enough shape to undergo surgery. A few different surgical techniques can be used, and you and your surgeon can decide which one is best for you. Sometimes, cataract surgery can be done as an outpatient procedure.

A recent study by a group in Spain found a relationship between estrogen and cataracts. It found that women who had been taking estrogen for more than four years had a reduced number of opacities in the lenses of their eyes. Although this is only one study, it might be worth a look at why this happens.

Self Treatment

If you do develop a cataract, you won’t necessarily need surgery, at least not right away. What you’ll notice with your cataract is that light is refracted differently now and doesn’t look the same as it did before. You may see just a general sort of cloudy haze in your visual field, or you may see a “dazzling” effect of scattered light as it bounces off your cataract. Changes in how you see are almost always due to changes in the lighting around you.

Outdoors on a sunny day, you will probably want to wear a hat with a brim to reduce this dazzle effect of bright sunlight; sunglasses will help this too. Indoors, experiment with the best lighting for you. You’ll find reading easier if you have a small reading lamp that can be moved around and adjusted for your comfort instead of a bright, immovable ceiling fixture. You may want to keep the room lighting low (but not off) when you watch television.

There have been many reports of nutritional support to fend off cataracts. It has been experimentally shown that diets low in vitamin B-2 can produce cataracts in animals. Cataracts in horses, a common cause of blindness in these animals, can be reduced when large amounts of vitamin B-2 are added to the diet. Galactose or milk sugar increases the need for vitamin B-2. In infants who cannot utilize galactose normally, blindness from cataracts has been corrected when milk sugar has been withdrawn from their diet and vitamin B-2 added. A 1997 study found a significant reduction in cataracts in a group of nurses who took vitamin C supplements. It is apparent that except for those cases of cataracts that are strictly and totally congenital, the major factor in the etiology of cataracts is nutrition. Although the lens can now be replaced by an artificial one, the best lens to have in your eye is the one that is already there!

NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS

Supplement

Directions for Use

Comments

Glutathione

1 capsule 3 times per day

Excellent free radical scavenger

Bilberry

3 capsules per day

Improves circulation

Copper and Manganese

3 mg daily

Retards growth of cataract

Grape seed extract

As directed on label

Powerful antioxidant

L-Lysine

As directed on label

Important in collagen formation- repairs lens

Selenium

400 mg daily

Free radical scavenger

Vitamin A

2,500-5,000 IU per day

Vital for all vision problems

Vitamin B-complex (extra B1,B2 & B5)

50 mg each daily

Important for eye metabolism

Vitamin C

2,000 mg (500mg 4 times a day)

Free radical scavenger

Vitamin E

400 IU daily

Free radical scavenger

Zinc

20 mg daily (not to exceed 40 mg)

Protects against light-induced damage

Superoxide Dismutase

As directed on label

Destroys free radicals- shown to be very effective in reducing cataract density

Lutein/Zeaxanthin 15/4 mg per day Helps filter out harmful blue light