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Cataracts
Chasing Away the Clouds

Source: Healing with Vitamins by the Editors of Prevention

Crack open an egg and drop it into a hot frying pan. You’ll see the egg white turn cloudy,  then white, as normally clear proteins in the egg are irreversibly altered by the heat.

Well, something similar to that happens when you get cataracts. Proteins in the lens of the eye lose their crystal-clear properties, becoming yellowish, cloudy and about as easy to see through as a fried egg. Of course, cataracts take not seconds but many years to form. And it’s not heat but cigarette smoking, a buildup of sugar in the lens (usually associated with diabetes) and especially years of exposure to sunlight that eventually pull the shades on vision for many people.

Many doctors now think that the main cause of cataracts is oxidative damage, to cells in the eye’s lens. Oxidative damage is the same chemical process that rusts iron and makes cooking oil turn rancid. In the lens, the oxidative process can occur as part of normal metabolism as well as in the presence of light, which creates harmful unstable molecules called free radicals. These free radicals grab electrons from your body’s healthy molecules to balance themselves, causing an ever-escalating molecular free-for-all that ends up hurting perfectly innocent cells.

Nutrients Shield the Lens

The lens can partially protect itself from this free radical damage, and it relies on certain nutrients to keep its defense system strong. Vitamins C and E, beta carotene (a precursor of vitamin A) and minerals such as selenium, zinc and copper –all components of antioxidant enzymes found in the lens may all play roles in protection.

“Not all the facts are in, but the evidence to date is mostly positive that nutrients such as vitamins C and E and beta-carotene are helpful,” Dr. Olson says. “And the evidence seems to indicate that these nutrients are synergistic, that they work best together.”

In fact, several small studies suggest that people who take multivitamin/mineral supplements are less likely to develop cataracts than those who do not.  A Harvard University study, for instance, found that doctors who regularly took multivitamin/mineral  supplements cut by about one-fourth their risk of developing cataracts compared with those not taking supplements.  And a study by Canadian researchers found that supplements reduced cataract formation by about 40 percent.

Doctors sometimes recommend these nutrients to help delay the development of cataracts:

Nutrient Daily Amount
Beta-carotene 25,000 international units
Copper 1 milligram for every 10 milligrams of zinc, but no more than 2 milligrams
Selenium 50-200 micrograms
Vitamin C 500-3,000 milligrams
Vitamin E 400 international units
Zinc 15-50 milligrams

Medical Alert: If you have cataracts, you should be under a doctor’s care.