August is Cataract Awareness Month, and according to the World Health Organization, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world, and the leading cause of vision loss in the United States. They typically begin developing at age 40 and older, and our health expert, Karen Owoc, is here with some tips to protect your eyes.
What are Cataracts?
The lens inside of your eyes are naturally clear. They are made of water and protein. If the proteins are arranged normally and precisely, they keep the lens clear and allow light to pass through it.
Over time, some of the protein may CLUMP TOGETHER which can cloud areas of the lens. The cloudy area is the cataract and can grow larger making it more difficult to see.
These opaque areas can cause cloudy or fuzzy vision and lights might give off a halo or glare. Colors appear faded. Blue might look green and yellow might appear white.
Many people don’t even notice until the defect grows very large and everyday tasks become challenging.
What is Cataract Surgery?
• The surgeon removes the clouded lens and replaces it with an artificial lens.
• More than 2 million cataract surgeries are performed in the U.S. each year.
Who is at Risk for Cataracts?
Most cataracts develop with age, but some people have congenital cataracts (present at birth).
• 1 in 2 of Americans by age 75 will have a cataract.
• About 1 in 6 Americans over age 40 already have started developing cataracts.
• About 1 in 250 children are born with cataracts or will develop cataracts during childhood.
• 61% of people with cataracts are women; 39% are men.
How Does Cataract Surgery Improve Quality of Life?
Improving vision can prevent other life-changing injuries and accidents.
• Decreases risk of hip fracture by 16%.
• Reduces odds of being in a car accident by 13%.
• Lowers mortality rate by 40% compared to those who have untreated cataracts.
Lifestyle Risk Factors for Cataracts
• UV radiation from sunlight and other sources
• High blood pressure
• High cholesterol
• Significant alcohol use
Other Risk Factors
• Increasing age
• Female gender
• Medications: Prolonged use of corticosteroids; use of statins, hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
• Previous eye injury, inflammation or eye surgery
• Close relative with cataracts
• High dose of radiation to the head
Nutrients that Can Lower Risk of Cataracts
Researchers found that people who ate high amounts of vitamin C had a 35% lower risk of cataract over a 10-year period.
Eating foods high in lutein (LOO-teen) and zeaxanthin (zee-uh-ZAN-thin) lowered need for cataract surgery by up to 20%.
The Anti-Cataract Diet
Lutein and zeaxanthin are red, orange, and yellow pigments in plants (the flesh and leaves).
• Lutein and zeaxanthin are highest in dark green leafy vegetables.
NOTE: Green leafy vegetables contain large amounts of the red/orange/yellow pigments, but they also contain an intense green pigment (chlorophyll) which masks the red-orange-yellow colors.
• Dark, green leafy vegetables — Kale, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens (outstanding sources)
• Yellow/deep orange foods – Corn, mandarin oranges, carrots
• Other foods: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, garden peas, beans
Perfect Pairing: Fats help increase the absorption of lutein and zeaxanthin, so add some avocado or a little olive oil to a leafy green salad.
Are Carrots Good for Cataracts?
Carrots contain a small amount of lutein and zeaxanthin compared to leafy greens.
• Spinach contains over 33X more lutein and zeaxanthin than carrots.
• Kale contains over 110X more lutein and zeaxanthin than carrots.
Carrots are rich in beta carotene. Your body converts beta carotene to a form of vitamin A, which is a key molecule involved in maintaining normal vision.
The Takeaway: Caring for your eyes includes paying special attention to what you eat. Eat at least 5 to 9 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables daily to consume adequate amounts of lutein, zeaxanthin, and other healthful nutrients.