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Cataracts are a common problem that an increasing number of middle-aged and older people are facing on an annual basis. Although cataracts are associated with the aging process and result from similar mechanisms, they are not an inevitable part of aging.
Cataracts are formed when the lens of the eye, which is normally clear becomes clouded and eventually opaque or white and cloudy. The lens is located at the front of the eye ball and, like the lens of a camera focuses light upon the retina which is located at the back of the eye. The lens is responsible for focusing the image that you see on to the retina where it is processed. However, when the lens becomes damaged, it can become opaque which limits its ability to contract and relax. It also cannot transmit light properly through it so this can cause blurriness in the image that you actually see. If the condition progresses, this can lead to eventual blindness.
In fact, cataracts are one of the leading causes of preventable blindness reported in North America today. Cataract formation is associated with the aging process and develops from an enhanced degree of free-radical activity occurring in the lens attributed to UV light exposure, chronic inflammation and high blood sugar. During periods of prolonged or repeated sun exposure or high levels of blood glucose, the proteins contained within the lens can be damaged by free-radicals. The lens is composed of layers of protein-collagen fibers which, after being damaged are replaced with scar tissue giving the lens its opaque appearance.
There have been many nutritional strategies regarding cataract development including eating more foods high in antioxidants like, berries, green leafy vegetables, citrus, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, mangoes and pomegranate. In my opinion, this strategy makes sense; as the intakes of multiple anti-oxidants has been shown to be protective in the development of cataracts.
Since the increased risk of developing cataracts increases with the diminished degree of blood sugar control, it would also make sense to get a much better control on the tendency for our population to develop type-2 diabetes.
If you have diabetes or are at an increases risk of developing it, getting better control of your blood sugar by eating a healthier diet free of refined carbohydrates, sugar, saturated fat, fried foods, junk food and replacing it with vegetables, brown rice, oatmeal, oily fish, chicken, turkey, game, yogurt, nuts, seeds, olive oil, legumes, and fresh fruit will certainly help.
Regular physical activity, including cardio-vascular and resistance exercise will improve insulin resistance and fat-burning potential.
The most important aspect in the control and prevention of cataracts is avoidance of UV light sources. The continual exposure of sunlight can damage the lens by the UV-A and UV-B rays which can cause free-radical activity inside the lens. There has also been some previous research to indicate that blue light emitted from video terminals and florescent tubes can also emit harmful UV light.
The important point that I would like to make here is that, although June is cataract awareness month which also signals the beginning of the summer, damage can also occur to your eyes in the winter. People have a tendency to directly expose themselves to UV light in the summer months.
For those of you who are contemplating this or if you reside in a sunnier destination, it’s very important that you wear protective eye-wear which has been approved for 100% UV blockage. Replacing bulbs with soft white, non-florescent types and using screen filters can prevent damage to your eyes from blue light sources.
Dr. Kevin. J. McLaughlin
Clinical Director: The Vitality Project