Cataracts / Risk

A cataract is a clouding of a part of the eye known as the crystalline lens. The lens is a clear tissue located behind the pupil – the dark circular opening in the middle of the iris or colored part of the eye. The lens works with the transparent cornea, which covers the eye’s surface, to focus light on the retina at the back of the eye. When the lens becomes cloudy, or cataractous, light cannot pass to the retina properly, and vision is blurred and decreased.

Although cataracts result from many conditions, the most frequent cause is the natural aging process. Other causes may include injury, chronic eye disease, and other system-wide diseases such as diabetes.

More than half the people over age 65 have some degree of cataract development. Cataracts can take from a few months to several years to develop. Sometimes the cataract stops developing in its early stages, and vision is only slightly decreased. If it continues to develop, vision is impaired and treatment is necessary.

It is a widely held belief that surgery to remove the diseased lens is the only effective treatment for cataracts. In cases of marked vision impairment, cataract removal and lens implant may be the only alternative. Cataract surgery is now a frequently performed operation in most parts of the world. More than one million cataract procedures are performed every year, and in the majority of those cases, the diseased tissue is replaced with an artificial device known as an intraocular lens implant. Recently a Japanese drug, phenoxazine carboxylic acid (Catalin), has been shown to be effective in inhibiting, as well as reversing cataract formation.

During cataract formation the normal protective mechanisms are unable to prevent free radical damage. The lens, like many other tissues of the body, is dependent on adequate levels and activities of superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, glutathione (GSH), and adequate levels of the accessory antioxidants vitamins E and C and selenium, to help prevent free radical damage.

Many natural doctors believe that the progression of early cataracts can be stopped. Antioxidant vitamins, minerals and herbs have been shown by clinical studies to be effective in preventing cataracts when detected early. At least 30 nutrients are beneficial in strengthening the integrity of eye tissue.

Alex Duarte, OD, PhD has written a small book called Cataract Breakthrough. In it he presents over nine years of clinical research showing how nutritional medicines can control early cataract formation. Vitamin and mineral formulations developed in France as a result of over twenty-five years of additional research are also explained, including case histories, and exact formulations.

 


Signs, symptoms & indicators of Cataracts / Risk

Symptoms - Head - Eyes/Ocular  

Seeing visual halos



 

Poor vision or being nearly blind




Conditions that suggest Cataracts / Risk

Organ Health  

Night Blindness

Cataracts, characterized by cloudiness of the lens, can cause night blindness.




Risk factors for Cataracts / Risk

Aging  


Hormones  


Nutrients  

Antioxidant Need/Oxidative Stress w/ Supplements

Formation of cataracts is believed to involve damage to lens protein by free radicals, causing the lens to lose its transparency. Some evidence suggests that cataract progression might be slowed with regular consumption of supplemental antioxidants, in particular vitamin E, vitamin C, and the carotenoids [Cataracts, Neurological Disorders, and Exercise. ch. 18, 515-533, Natural Antioxidants in Human Health and Disease. Academic Press, 1994]. It is estimated that if cataract development were delayed by 10 years as a result of increased antioxidant protection, the number of cataract surgeries performed in the U.S. would decrease by more than half.



 

Antioxidant Need/Oxidative Stress w/o Supplements

Formation of cataracts is believed to involve damage to lens protein by free radicals, causing the lens to lose its transparency. Some evidence suggests that cataract progression might be slowed with regular consumption of supplemental antioxidants, in particular vitamin E, vitamin C, and the carotenoids [Cataracts, Neurological Disorders, and Exercise. ch. 18, 515-533, Natural Antioxidants in Human Health and Disease. Academic Press, 1994]. It is estimated that if cataract development were delayed by 10 years as a result of increased antioxidant protection, the number of cataract surgeries performed in the U.S. would decrease by more than half.



Skin-Hair-Nails  


Symptoms - Glandular  

Poorly controlled diabetes



 

Reasonably controlled diabetes



Symptoms - Head - Eyes/Ocular  

History of cataracts




Cataracts / Risk suggests the following may be present

Aging  



Recommendations for Cataracts / Risk

Amino Acid / Protein  

Carnosine

Carnosine eye drops have been shown to delay vision senescence in humans, being effective in 100% of cases of primary senile cataract and 80% of cases of mature senile cataract. [Biochemistry (Moscow). 2000; 65(7): pp.869-71]

These are remarkable results considering that the best that could normally be expected would be a slight improvement, a halt to the progression and under normal circumstances a worsening of the disease. Importantly, it was also noted that there were no side effects noted in any of the cases.



Botanical  

Cineraria Maritima

Cineraria Maritima is FDA approved in cataracts and has approximately a 20% success rate. One Naturopath, using other nutrients, claims to get a 50% response rate.



Diet  

Vegetarian/Vegan Diet

In a study of nurses who ate spinach or other leafy greens at least 5 times a week, it was found they had a 47-65% lower risk of cataracts.



 

Increased Fruit/Vegetable Consumption

People with low blood levels of antioxidants and those who eat few antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables have been reported to be at high risk for cataracts.

Some – but not all – studies have reported that eating more fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotene was associated with a lower risk of cataracts. It remains unclear whether natural beta-carotene from food or supplements would protect the eye or whether beta-carotene in food is merely a marker for other protective factors in fruits and vegetables high in beta-carotene.



Lab Tests/Rule-Outs  


Mineral  


Nutrient  

Lutein / Zeaxanthin

Supplementation with lutein (15mg three times per week), but not vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol 100mg three times per week), improved visual acuity and glare sensitivity in a study of 17 patients with age-related cataracts. No significant adverse

effects were observed during this two year long study. [Nutrition 2003;19(1): pp.21-4] This comment regarding vitamin E means that vitamin E, at the dose used in this study (alpha-tocopherol 100mg three times per week), did not produce any improvement, while lutein did.

People with diets higher in lutein and zeaxanthin had a lower risk of developing cataract. [American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999, Vol. 69, pps. 272-277]



 

Alpha Lipoic Acid

It has been reported that lipoic acid has been shown to be helpful for cataracts. Some doctors caution that with a high body level for mercury, you risk moving mercury INTO the lens and brain rather than out, so lipoic acid should only be used if mercury levels are known to be low.



Surgery/Invasive  

Surgery

Cataract surgery has made extraordinary and exciting advances over the past 20 years. In 2006, over two and one-half million Americans underwent cataract surgery. And, greater than 95% of those patients now enjoy improved vision.



Vitamins  

Antioxidants

The risk of cataracts may be reduced by long term use of a daily multivitamin, recent study findings suggest. Researchers found that individuals who took a multivitamin or a supplement that contained vitamins C or E for more than 10 years had a 60% lower risk of developing a cataract, regardless of other risk factors. [Archives of Ophthalmology November, 2000;118: pp.1556-1563]



 

Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)

Several experimental and epidemiologic studies have shown that long-term consumption of vitamin C supplements may substantially reduce the development of age-related lens opacities. [Am J Clin Nutr, 1997 Oct, 66:4, pp.911-6]



Key

Weak or unproven link
Strong or generally accepted link
Proven definite or direct link
May do some good
Likely to help
Highly recommended

Glossary

Cataract

A steadily worsening disease of the eye in which the lens becomes cloudy as a result of the precipitation of proteins. Most cataracts are caused by the functions of the body breaking down. Eye trauma, such as from a puncture wound, may also result in cataracts.

Cornea

Transparent structure forming the anterior part of the eye.

Retina

A 10-layered, frail nervous tissue membrane of the eye, parallel with the optic nerve. It receives images of outer objects and carries sight signals through the optic nerve to the brain.

Chronic

Usually Chronic illness: Illness extending over a long period of time.

Diabetes Mellitus

A disease with increased blood glucose levels due to lack or ineffectiveness of insulin. Diabetes is found in two forms; insulin-dependent diabetes (juvenile-onset) and non-insulin-dependent (adult-onset). Symptoms include increased thirst; increased urination; weight loss in spite of increased appetite; fatigue; nausea; vomiting; frequent infections including bladder, vaginal, and skin; blurred vision; impotence in men; bad breath; cessation of menses; diminished skin fullness. Other symptoms include bleeding gums; ear noise/buzzing; diarrhea; depression; confusion.

Free Radical

A free radical is an atom or group of atoms that has at least one unpaired electron. Because another element can easily pick up this free electron and cause a chemical reaction, these free radicals can effect dramatic and destructive changes in the body. Free radicals are activated in heated and rancid oils and by radiation in the atmosphere, among other things.

SOD

Superoxide Dismutase. An antioxidant enzyme which helps protect cells from free-radical damage.

Glutathione

A natural sulfur-bearing peptide formed from the linking of three amino acids: glutamic acid, cysteine and glycine. Glutathione acts as an antioxidant and detoxicant and is involved with the selenium-containing enzyme glutathione peroxidase. Glutathione is also involved in amino acid transport across cell membranes.

Antioxidant

A chemical compound that slows or prevents oxygen from reacting with other compounds. Some antioxidants have been shown to have cancer-protecting potential because they neutralize free radicals. Examples include vitamins C and E, alpha lipoic acid, beta carotene, the minerals selenium, zinc, and germanium, superoxide dismutase (SOD), coenzyme Q10, catalase, and some amino acids, like cystiene. Other nutrient sources include grape seed extract, curcumin, gingko, green tea, olive leaf, policosanol and pycnogenol.

Selenium

An essential element involved primarily in enzymes that are antioxidants. Three selenium- containing enzymes are antioxidant peroxidases and a fourth selenium-containing enzyme is involved in thyroid hormone production. The prostate contains a selenium-containing protein and semen contains relatively large amounts of selenium. Clinical studies show that selenium is important in lowering the risk of several types of cancers. In combination with Vitamin E, selenium aids the production of antibodies and helps maintain a healthy heart. It also aids in the function of the pancreas, provides elasticity to tissues and helps cells defend themselves against damage from oxidation.

Mineral

Plays a vital role in regulating many body functions. They act as catalysts in nerve response, muscle contraction and the metabolism of nutrients in foods. They regulate electrolyte balance and hormonal production, and they strengthen skeletal structures.

Herbs

Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, teas should be made with one teaspoon herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Tinctures may be used singly or in combination as noted. The high doses of single herbs suggested may be best taken as dried extracts (in capsules), although tinctures (60 drops four times per day) and teas (4 to 6 cups per day) may also be used.

Protein

Compounds composed of hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen present in the body and in foods that form complex combinations of amino acids. Protein is essential for life and is used for growth and repair. Foods that supply the body with protein include animal products, grains, legumes, and vegetables. Proteins from animal sources contain the essential amino acids. Proteins are changed to amino acids in the body.

Vitamin E

An essential fat-soluble vitamin. As an antioxidant, helps protect cell membranes, lipoproteins, fats and vitamin A from destructive oxidation. It helps protect red blood cells and is important for the proper function of nerves and muscles. For Vitamin E only, 1mg translates to 1 IU.

Vitamin C

Also known as ascorbic acid, Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant vitamin essential to the body's health. When bound to other nutrients, for example calcium, it would be referred to as "calcium ascorbate". As an antioxidant, it inhibits the formation of nitrosamines (a suspected carcinogen). Vitamin C is important for maintenance of bones, teeth, collagen and blood vessels (capillaries), enhances iron absorption and red blood cell formation, helps in the utilization of carbohydrates and synthesis of fats and proteins, aids in fighting bacterial infections, and interacts with other nutrients. It is present in citrus fruits, tomatoes, berries, potatoes and fresh, green leafy vegetables.

Psoriasis

An inherited skin disorder in which there are red patches with thick, dry silvery scales. It is caused by the body making too-many skin cells. Sores may be anywhere on the body but are more common on the arms, scalp, ears, and the pubic area. A swelling of small joints may go along with the skin disease.

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