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.
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.
More than half the people over age 65 have some degree of cataract development.
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.
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.
Many holistic 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.
Several studies have found that long-term use of B vitamin supplements, along with vitamins A, C, and E, and carotenoids (particularly lutein and zeaxanthin), reduces the risk of developing cataracts.
N-Acetyl-Carnosine (NAC) 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.
CAUTION: It is only N-acetylcarnosine that has been clinically proven as suitable for eye use. Other forms of carnosine, such as L-carnosine should not be used topically in the eye. L-Carnosine releases the toxic compound, histamine, which can severely promote oxidation reactions. NAC appears to penetrate through the cornea more gradually, thus maintaining a longer active therapeutic concentration of L-Carnosine in the aqueous humor and the lens of the treated eye.
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.
A Japanese drug, phenoxazine carboxylic acid (Catalin), has been shown to be effective in inhibiting, as well as reversing, cataract formation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
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