Loma Linda University - Ophthalmology - Cataracts and Preventive Measures
Cataracts and Preventive Measures 


Cataracts cause more blindness in the world than any other cause of blindness. A number of risk factors have been identified for developing cataracts . By taking precautions many cataracts can be avoided or delayed. The discovery, for instance, that uncontrolled supply of oxygen to new-born infants could result in severe cataracts in a very short time. Refining the treatment of newborns has resulted in avoiding loss of vision at the very outset of life. Other factors that can be avoided or controlled are important for preventing cataracts.


Diabetes and Cataract Risk

High blood sugar levels can cause damage to the eye. The accumulation of some sugars in the blood leads to formation of sugar alcohols in the lens which causes swelling and rupturing of the lens cells. The most common type of diabetes can often be completely controlled by a healthful diet and exercise program. For those who require additional insulin to control the levels of glucose in the blood, diet and exercise are also important in addition to the insulin they require to minimize not only the insulin required but also complications of the condition. Controlling blood glucose at normal or near normal levels greatly reduces the risk of eye disease complications.



Recent studies show that smoking is related to a marked increase in diseases of the eye. Investigation reveals that smoking is associated with the leading cause of blindness in the world. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness and studies show that smoking is associated with a marked increase in the risk of developing cataracts. Some studies indicate that the risk may be more than tripled. This may be due to the prooxidants generated by smoking. The tissues and fluids in primate eyes have very high levels of ascorbates [vitamin Cl a strong antioxidant. The aqueous has an unusually great concentration of vitamin C. It may be up to 20 times higher than in the plasma. Smoking decreases the vitamin C levels while the consumption of fruits and vegetables, abundant in vitamin C and other antioxidants provides outstanding protection.


Alcohol and Cataract Risk

A number of studies indicate that regular alcoholic beverage consumption is a risk factor for cataract development. More than one drink of an alcoholic beverage per day may raise the risk as much as four-fold. While the mechanism is not clear it is postulated that the formation of acetaldehyde in the detoxification process may harm the lens proteins. Since alcohol consumption is such a common habit it may contribute significantly to the large number of cataracts.



Certain medications raise the risk of developing cataracts. A great number of studies indicate that there is an association between the use of corticosteroids by mouth and Posterior Sub capsular Cataract [PSC] development. Since autoimmune diseases such as asthma and Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus to name a few are often treated with steroids and are very common this may be another reason why the problem with cataracts is so significant. These medications can be very helpful and even necessary in some cases, but again preventive measures and alternative treatment may help prevent this side effect. A number of studies have indicated a possible increase in users of phenothiazine drugs.


Radiation and Cataract Risk

When the protein in the lens becomes disorganized it begins to diffuse the light and act like frosted glass. The lens absorbs UV-A and UV-B and this has been linked with cataract formation in animals. Studies on people have been ecological prevalence studies and case-control studies with some positive associations indicated and some unconvincing.


Obesity and Cataract Risk

Obesity has been identified as a mild risk factor for cataract development. The mechanism is not clear however it might be related to secondary effects. An example would be that obesity boosts blood sugar levels which in turn increase risk of cataracts.


Fruits & Vegetables - Cataract Protection

Finally the good news is that studies indicate the eating of fruits and vegetables is very protective against cataract development. A recent study published  indicated that those who ate at least three and a half servings of fruit and vegetables had more than 5 times less cataracts than those who ate fewer. Again the particular substance which is responsible for the great reduction in risk is not clear and probably includes a combination of substances. A study just published indicates that vitamin C may be one of the substances as long term supplementation [10 years] reduces risk but not as much as the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Eight out of ten studies indicate protective properties of various antioxidant nutrients found in fruits vegetables and whole grains.

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