Cataracts occur when the proteins in the lens of the eye become increasingly opaque, which results in a cloudy rather than clear lens and blurred vision. For people affected by cataracts, it might seem that everything is seen through a fogged-up window. The condition makes it difficult for people to drive, read or see the expression on someone’s face. For people living with hearing loss, this can be an extra challenge to communication. Many people with hearing loss rely on facial expressions and gestures as part of speechreading, but this is difficult to do if you cannot clearly see one’s subtle lip and face movements.

Here’s what to know about cataracts and how you can reduce your risk.

Who is at risk?

There are many different risk factors for developing cataracts, including both conditions that we cannot change as well as factors that we can alter to lessen the risk of cataracts.

Risk factors we can’t change
Natural risk factors for cataracts include:

  • Ethnicity. African-Americans older than 40 are especially at risk.
  • Being female. For uncertain reasons, women are more likely than men to be affected by certain types of cataracts. Women are also affected by disproportionate access to care.
  • Genetic variation. Experts think that one’s genetics determine half the risk of getting cataracts.
  • Aging. The risk for developing cataracts increases as we age.

Risk factors that can be changed
However, there are many environmental and behavioral risk factors associated with cataracts that we can often change for the better in order to reduce are risk. They include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Smoking
  • A diet high in refined carbohydrates and saturated fat
  • Excessive exposure to UV rays without protection
  • Having diabetes

Preventing cataracts with nutrition

There is much positive research on how what one eats can decrease the risk of developing cataracts. Some research shows that vitamins C and E, and the antioxidant carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, might have some protective benefits against developing this condition.

Vitamins C and E
Many recent studies have shown that the antioxidants vitamins C and E can decrease development or progression of cataracts. For example, the Nutrition and Vision Project – a subset of Harvard’s Nurses’ Health Study – found that higher intake of these vitamins led to a decreased risk of nuclear and cortical cataracts. A recent analysis of results from a national dietary study (Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) found that higher levels of vitamin C in the diet were associated with lower risk of cataracts. Additionally, the Roche European American Cataract Trial found supplementing with vitamins C and E, as well as beta-carotene produced small but significant decrease in cataract progression in less than three years.

Sources of vitamin C

  • Fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • Fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
  • Papaya
  • Green peppers, raw
  • Tomato juice
  • Cantaloupe
  • Strawberries
  • Grapefruit

Sources of vitamin E

  • Almonds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Safflower oil
  • Peanuts
  • Corn oil

Lutein and Zeaxanthin
High levels of Lutein and zeaxanthin have been shown in research studies to reduce one’s risk of developing cataracts or needing cataract surgery when being minimally affected by them.

Sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin

  • Spinach
  • Green peas
  • Yellow corn
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Orange pepper
  • Persimmons
  • Tangerines
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