Updated: Mar 3, 2022
A cataract is a clouding of the eye's lens due to a build-up of protein in the lens that impairs vision.
There are many different types of cataracts; three of the most common are:
nuclear cataracts which grow in the nucleus (inner core) of the eye's lens. This is the most common type of cataract associated with ageing.
cortical cataracts which develop in the cortex (outside edge of the lens).
posterior subcapsular cataracts which form toward the back of a cellophane-like capsule that surrounds the lens. These are most common in people who are diabetic, overweight or taking steroids.
Cataracts can also be classified by cause:
congenital cataracts occur in babies who are born with cataracts due to an infection, injury or poor development before birth; they can also develop during childhood
secondary cataracts which are a result of other medical conditions, such as diabetes, or exposure to toxic substances, certain drugs (e.g. steroids like prednisone), or ultraviolet light or radiation
traumatic cataracts which develop as a result of injury to the eye
Common symptoms include:
cloudy or blurred vision, as if you're looking through fog or a dirty window
sensitivity to light and glare
difficulty with night vision
seeing "halos" around lights
fading or yellowing of colours
double vision; you see things in twos and they may overlap
frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescription
difficulty reading due to reduced black-white contrast
loss of depth perception
Causes and risk factors
There are many risk factors for cataracts, including:
Age is a primary risk factor for cataracts. Most people who live a long life will develop cataracts to some degree.
Sex - women are at higher risk than men.
Glaucoma and treatments for glaucoma increase the risk of cataracts.
Myopia - near-sighted (myopic) people are at higher risk.
Previous physical injury to the eye or intraocular eye surgery increases risk.
Diabetes, type 1 or 2, increases the risk of developing cataracts at younger ages.
The use of steroid medications, e.g. for the treatment of autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis can increase the risk of cataracts.
Overexposure to sunlight, particularly UVB radiation, increases the risk of nuclear cataracts in particular. The risk may be greater for people who had significant sun exposure when they were young. Occupational prolonged exposure to sunlight also increases risk.
Smoking and chronic, heavy alcohol use increase the risk of cataracts. Smoking a pack a day doubles a person's risk.
Prevention and treatment
We will focus on natural prevention and treatment here but note that there are effective conventional treatments as well, including changing prescription eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses and magnifying lenses. Not all cataracts require surgery but if it is eventually needed, it is done on an outpatient basis. Surgery consists of removing the cataract and replacing the lens with a permanent implant called an intraocular lens.
While cataracts may not be completely preventable, there is agreement that their occurrence can definitely be delayed.
Natural prevention and treatment include focusing on a healthy diet and supplements, as well as a number of lifestyle modifications.
The more antioxidants you can get from fruits and vegetables, the better your chances of preventing cataract development. High-antioxidant foods protect your eyes from oxidative stress that contributes to cataracts.
Fresh fruit and vegetables contain high levels of phytochemicals. Phytonutrients are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that have been shown to help prevent or delay the progression of eye disease, including cataracts.
Vitamin A (beta-carotene)-rich foods have been shown to prevent loss of vision caused by both cataracts and macular degeneration. Carrots, sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens are some excellent choices to get more vitamin A.
Vitamin C-rich foods include peppers, citrus fruits, berries, tropical fruits, broccoli and tomatoes. Vitamin C has been linked to a lower risk of cataracts.
Vitamin E-rich foods include almonds, spinach, wheat germ and sweet potatoes. Studies have shown that vitamin E reduces cataract formation.
Zinc-rich foods include grass-fed beef, kefir, yogurt, chickpeas and pumpkin seeds. Zinc deficiency has been linked to cloudy vision and poor night vision since it helps bring vitamin A from the liver to the retina.
Lutein and zeaxanthin have been extensively studied for cataract prevention. They are super antioxidants found together in many vegetables. They are also found together in the lenses of the eyes. They filter harmful blue wavelengths and help maintain healthy eye cells. People whose diets are high in foods rich in zeaxanthin, particularly spinach, kale and broccoli, are up to 50 percent less likely to develop cataracts. Other foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin include eggs, collard greens, turnip greens and corn.
Fatty fish (e.g. salmon) and other foods rich in omega-3 (e.g. chia and flax seeds) have been linked to a potentially reduced risk of cataracts or their progression.
Cut down on excessive calories and processed food intake. Avoid sugar and other refined foods, e.g. containing white flour.
Stay well-hydrated. Eyes are especially sensitive to dehydration, which reduces their resistance to free radicals.
Supplements and herbs
If you feel your diet is lacking in any of the above nutrients, you may choose to take high-quality supplements.
In addition, bilberry is known for its significant benefits to the eyes. It is a powerful antioxidant and also contains vitamin C. It has shown protective effects against cataracts, as well as macular degeneration and glaucoma. NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine) is also helpful.
Reduce UV light exposure: Wearing sunglasses with complete UV protection and a hat with a brim may help delay the formation of cataracts.
Decreasing alcohol consumption and quitting smoking can both substantially decrease your risk of cataracts.
Physical activity and meditation help oxygenate the body, reduce stress and get rid of toxins. Any positive lifestyle habits that improve your general health also improve your eye health.
Remember, you are never too young or too old to start taking preventive measures to protect your eyes from cataracts.
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Price A. Cataract symptoms & natural treatments that help. https://draxe.com/health/cataract-symptoms/ August 20, 2016. Accessed July 19, 2021.
What are cataracts? https://www.webmd.com/eye-health/cataracts/what-are-cataracts August 19, 2019. Accessed July 19, 2021.
Wong C. How to prevent cataracts naturally. https://www.verywellhealth.com/preventing-cataracts-naturally-89270 April 12, 2020. Accessed July 19, 2021.
Cataract prevention: the 5 key tips. https://www.vision-and-eye-health.com/cataract-prevention.html Accessed July 27, 2021.
Barbeau Capruciu J. Cataracts https://www.avogel.ca/en/health/eye-health/cataracts.php Accessed July 27, 2021.
Disclaimer: The suggestions and recommendations in this newsletter are not intended to be prescriptive or diagnostic. The information is accurate and up to date to our knowledge, but we are not responsible for any errors in our sources of information.