Imagine what it would be like to spend your life looking through a waterfall. Your vision would be distorted and incoming light would have great difficulty reaching your eye. This is exactly how 20 million of the world’s population views the world around them. They all suffer from cataracts, which in Greek means ‘waterfall’.
Cataracts are considered the leading cause of impaired vision in adults aged 55 and older and the leading cause of blindness for adults around the world. Alarmingly, some doctors believe that if we live long enough we will all eventually develop the condition.
Limiting the damage caused by free radicals is vital
Because free radical damage is known to play a big part in causing the condition, it’s important to ensure you’re getting plenty of antioxidants in your diet. Your body needs antioxidants to neutralise free radical damage that can destroy the health of your eyes.
The latest research findings have revealed that one antioxidant in particular could be crucial in the fight against cataracts: Vitamin C. In fact, researchers at King’s College London found that consuming a high amount of vitamin C could slow the risk of cataract progression by a third compared to a low intake.
The researchers examined data from over 1,000 pairs of twins enrolled in the Twins UK registry. Questionnaire responses provided information concerning the intake of vitamin C and other nutrients. Digital imaging evaluated lens opacity in all subjects at age 60 and in 324 sets of twins 10 years later.
At the beginning of the study, participants whose diets contained abundant amounts of vitamin C had a 20 per cent lower reduction in cataract risk compared to those who consumed low amounts. After 10 years, those who consumed a high amount of the vitamin had a 33 per cent lower risk of cataract progression.
Genetic factors were determined to account for 35 per cent of the difference in progression and environmental factors, including diet, accounted for the remainder. The study is the first to suggest that genetic factors are less important in cataract progression than those attributed to the environment.
Commenting on the findings, lead researcher Dr. Christopher Hammond, who is a professor of ophthalmology at King’s College, said: “While we cannot totally avoid developing cataracts, we may be able to delay their onset and keep them from worsening significantly by eating a diet rich in vitamin C.”
“The findings of this study could have significant impact, particularly for the ageing population globally by suggesting that simple dietary changes such as increased intake of fruit and vegetables as part of a healthier diet could help protect them from cataracts. While we cannot avoid getting older, diabetes and smoking are also risk factors for this type of cataract, and so a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle generally should reduce the risk of needing a cataract operation,” he added.
The study backs up previous research findings, which revealed that long-term use (over 10 to 12 years) of supplemental vitamin C could be significant in reducing age-related cataracts. The study involved 247 women, who were part of the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study. The results revealed that 77 per cent had a lower prevalence of early lens opacity and 83 per cent had fewer cases of moderate lens cloudiness, as compared with those who didn’t take supplements.
You can easily up your dietary intake of vitamin C by eating more broccoli, red peppers, Brussels sprouts, parsley, potatoes, citrus fruit and strawberries. Alternatively, you can take 1,000mg of vitamin C in supplement form.
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Disclaimer: Bear in mind the material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only. We are not addressing anyone’s personal situation. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
Ophthalmology 24 March 2015
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1997; 66: 911-16