A NATURAL APPROACH TO PREVENTION & TREATMENT
Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world.
What is a Cataract?
A cataract is a clouding of the crystalline lens of the eye. As it progresses, the opacity that develops affects vision.
The lens of the eye lies behind the iris and the pupil. It works much like a camera lens, focusing light onto the retina at the back of the eye. The lens also adjusts the eye’s focus, letting us see things clearly both up close and far away.
The lens must be clear for the retina to receive a sharp image. If the lens is cloudy from a cataract, the image you see will be blurred.
The lens is mostly made of water and protein. The protein is arranged in a precise way that keeps the lens clear and lets light pass through it.
Most cataracts are related to ageing, and are common in older people. By age 80, more than half the people in the Western World either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery. As we age, some of the protein may clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens. This is a cataract and, with the passage of time, it may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making it progressively harder to see.
A cataract may occur in either or both eyes.
Cataracts typically progress slowly to cause vision loss and are potentially blinding if left untreated.
Types of Cataracts
1) Age-related cataract. Most cataracts are this type.
2) Secondary cataract. This may be due to:
· surgery for other eye problems such as glaucoma
· diabetes mellitus
· steroid usage and other drugs such as major tranquillizers
· ultra-violet light.
3) Traumatic cataract. After eye injury, possible years later.
4) Congenital cataract.
5) Radiation cataract.
(For a more detailed list, see wikipedia.org/cataract).
Classification of Cataracts
1) A nuclear cataract. This forms in the centre of the lens and is due to natural ageing changes
2) A cortical cataract. This forms in the lens cortex and gradually extends from the outside of the lens to the centre. Many diabetics develop this type.
3) A sub-capsular cataract. This begins at the back of the lens and occurs in diabetics, as part of retinitis pigmentosa, and in those on high dose steroids.
Causes of Cataracts
What makes the protein in the lens clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens?
In age-related cataracts, the ageing process caused by, for example, reduction in production of carnosine (see my February 2008 Newsletter ‘Carnosine’), and especially free radical damage (see my January 2007 newsletter ‘Free Radicals - Antioxidants’), leads to changes in the protein in the lens and resultant clumping. These processes are accelerated by diseases such as diabetes mellitus, personal behaviour such as smoking and alcohol abuse (mainly when consumed over a prolonged period), drugs especially high dosage of steroids taken over a long time, prolonged exposure to sunlight (ultraviolet light) as in the snow or at sea, air pollution and exposure to radiation.
Age-Related Cataracts and Vision
Age-related cataracts can affect vision in two ways:
1) Clumps of protein reduce the sharpness of the image reaching the retina. When the protein clumps, it clouds the lens and reduces the light that reaches the retina. Cataracts “grow” slowly, so vision gets worse gradually. Initially there is no significant reduction in vision. Untreated, the vision gets duller or blurrier until eventual blindness results.
2) The clear lens slowly changes to a yellowish/brown colour, adding a brownish tint to the vision and reducing the perception of blue colours. This tinting does not affect the sharpness of the image transmitted to the retina.
You do not have to be a senior citizen to get this type of cataract. People can have an ‘age-related’ cataract in their 40’s and 50’s. But, during middle age, most cataracts are small and do not affect vision. It is after age 60 that most cataracts lead to reduced vision.
Symptoms of Cataract
The most common symptoms of cataract are:
· Cloudy or blurred vision.
· Colours, especially blue, seem faded and not as bright as they once did.
· Glare. Headlights of cars, street lights, lamps and even sunlight may appear too bright. A halo or flare may appear around lights.
· Poor night vision.
· Double vision or multiple images in one eye.
· Frequent prescription changes, both up and down in strength.
Note: These symptoms can also be a sign of other eye problems. If you have these symptoms, check with your eye care professional, who will carry out a comprehensive eye examination.
TREATMENT AND PREVENTION
The following is a detailed list of things to do, what to eat, and the supplements worth taking, both to prevent, as well as treat, cataracts.
The symptoms of early cataract may be reduced with new eye glasses, strong bifocals, brighter lighting, antiglare sunglasses or magnifying lenses. If these measures, as well as the ‘natural approach’ set-out and described below, do not help, surgery is the only effective treatment.
Once the cataract has progressed “to the point of no return”, (ie when vision is seriously impaired), the most effective and common treatment is to remove the cloudy lens surgically. Details of surgery can be found elsewhere. In brief, it involves removal of the lens, either by the commonly used extra-capsular surgery (leaving the lens capsule intact) or the now rarely performed intra-capsular surgery (removing the entire lens including the lens capsule). In both types of surgery, the cataractous lens is removed and replaced with a plastic lens (an intraocular lens implant), which stays in the eye permanently. Surgery is now a relatively simple procedure.
Prevention and Non-Surgical Treatment of Cataracts.
The early presence of cataracts has no symptoms. It is safe to assume that, with increasing age, the development of cataracts (the age-related form, the most common) is inevitable to some degree.
Much can be done to prevent the changes that result in cataract formation from happening and if the changes have already started, to slow their progression and even, hopefully, bring about some regression of the changes.
Oxidative stress, or free radical damage, plays a key role and indeed IS the cause of the changes in the lens that result in nuclear cataracts, the common type, namely age-related.
A diet high in antioxidants such as carotenoids (vitamin A), vitamins C and E, and selenium is essential. The ideal diet has been set-out in detail in my book ‘How to Live to 100+ Years Free from Symptoms and Disease’ (see homepage). The importance of antioxidants has been discussed in my January 2007 newsletter ‘Free Radicals - Antioxidants’, and the correct balance of alkali forming foods (75% - 80%) to acid forming foods (20% - 25%) in the diet is essential (see my September 2005 newsletter ‘Acid/Alkaline Balance’).
The Antioxidant Vitamins
The role of vitamin A, linked to â carotein and the many other carotenoids (at least 200), vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium as antioxidants have been outlined in my January 2007 newsletter on antioxidants and will not be further discussed here except to give the suggested daily dosage for the prevention of and the treatment of cataracts:
· Vitamin A 5000iu
· Vitamin C 1000 mg, combined with bioflavinoids
Bioflavinoids such as quercetin, rutin and citrus enhance the effect of vitamin C
· Vitamin E 500iu
· Selenium 50-100mcg (never higher than 200 mcg).
It is of interest that one Brazil nut contains up to 120 mcg of selenium and is an excellent natural source of selenium.
PhytoNutrients or PhytoChemicals
A whole new exciting area of research is focused on phytonutrients. ‘Phyto’ refers to plants. These are health-promoting, disease-preventing compounds that are found only in plant foods, and every plant has them. There are said to be hundreds, if not thousands, of them and more are being identified every day. Some of the most thoroughly researched phytonutrients include: lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, anthocyanin, saponin, tannins, lignans, resveratrol, isoflavones, polyphenols and proanthrocyanidin. Glyconutrents are also phytonutrients (see my March 2007 newsletter ‘Glyconutrients’).
Of these, lutein, anthocyanin, polyphenols and proanthocyanidin are particularly relevant to the health of the eye in general and in the prevention and treatment of cataracts.
The word lutein is derived from the Latin word ‘lutea’, meaning ‘yellow. It is one of some 600 known, naturally occurring, carotenoids.
It is found in foods, especially leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, lettuce, broccoli, zucchini and peas and darkly coloured fruits. It is present in some flowers, notably marigolds. It has been used as a natural colourant – yellow at low concentrations and orange-yellow at high concentrations.
Egg yolks are also an excellent source of lutein. In a study in which volunteers received different sources of lutein (spinach, eggs or one of two types of lutein supplements), eggs came out on top. Those who ate eggs as their lutein source had blood levels of lutein that were three times higher than those who ate other lutein sources. It is suggested that the lecithin that is also in eggs is responsible for its superior absorbability. Excess intake of eggs is, of course, not recommended.
It is an antioxidant, and so helps protect the eye from oxidative stress (free radical damage). It is concentrated in the macular, a small area of the retina responsible for central vision.
Lutein helps protect against cataract formation, as well decreasing the risk of age-related macular degeneration.
As a supplement, it is extracted from marigold flowers. The dose is 500-100mcg.
It can be added to foods; as a food additive, the code number is 161 or E161b.
Zeaxanthin has the identical chemical formula as lutein. They are isomers, but not stereoisomers. As a food additive, zeaxanthin has the same code number as lutein, namely 161 or E161b. Zeaxanthin is one of the most common carotenoids found in nature. It is the pigment that gives corn and saffron, for example, their characteristic colour.
Like lutein, there is epidemiological evidence that increasing zeaxanthin intake lowers the risk of age-related cataract development. It also reduces the risk of age-related macular degeneration.
Bilberry (vaccinium myrtillus) is a low-growing shrub, bearing deep blue berries, in singles or pairs, with red or purple pulp. It can be distinguished from the blueberry, to which it is closely related, which bears purple berries, in clusters, with light green fruit pulp.
Bilberries contain high levels of anthocyanin. This blue pigment is linked experimentally to lowered risk for several diseases such as those of the cardio-vascular system, cancer and the eye conditions of age-related cataract and macular degeneration.
Generally, each capsule of bilberry contains bilberry extract equivalent to 5,000mg or 5g of fresh fruit. This, when standardised, is the equivalent of 12.5mg of anthocyanosides. The dosage of bilberry is 1-2 capsules per day.
Grape Seed Extract
Grape seed extract contains chemicals know as polyphenols, including the subclass proanthocyanidins, which are recognized to be effective antioxidants.
Animal studies have shown the benefit of grape seed extract in preventing cataract formation. Benefit in humans is yet to be demonstrated. However, the animal studies suggest therapeutic worth in humans.
Studies have also shown that grape seed extract may help to prevent and treat heart disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Other research shows that it may help to prevent or control damage to body cells cased by drugs, pollution, tobacco and other toxins.
Proanthocyanidins are also believed to block the deterioration of blood vessels. Therefore grape seed extract may improve conditions involving veins and arteries, including retinopathy. Retinopathy is the gradual breakdown of the retina, usually due to blood vessel damage as occurs, for example, in diabetes mellitus.
One of the polyphenols in grape seed extract is called resveratrol, shown in animal studies to interfere with cancer cell growth and division, including skin, prostate and breast cancers.
Oral grape seed extract is available, with a recommended dosage equivalent to dry seed of 12-24g per day. It should be noted that it may possibly increase the time blood needs to clot, and so may increase the effects of anticoagulant drugs such as coumadin (Warfarin).
Carnosine is an anti-ageing substance produced by the body and with increasing age the amount produced progressively decreases. My February 2008 newsletter ‘Carnosine’ gives full details of this interesting substance.
The dosage of L-Carnosine is 500-1,000mg per day.
Carnosine Eye Drops
Eye drops containing N-acetyl-carnosine 1% have been shown to be beneficial both in the prevention of cataracts, as well as in the treatment of early age-related cataracts. The dosage is 1 drop in each eye, 1-4 times per day.
This vitamin-like substance is, by nature, present in most human cells except red blood cells and eye lens cells (due to the absence of mitochondria) and is responsible for the production of the body’s own energy. In each human cell, food energy is converted into energy in the mitochondria with the aid of CoEnzyme Q10. 95% of all the human body’s energy requirement (ATP) is converted with the aid of CoEnzyme Q10.
Because of its ability to transfer electrons, and therefore to act as an antioxidant, CoEnzyme Q10 is also used as a dietary supplement. The elderly and the sick may not be able to make enough CoEnzyme Q10 and so it is regarded as a vitamin for later in life and in illness.
Epidemiological evidence suggests it may be protective against age-related cataracts.
The dosage is 150-300mg per day.
Lipoic acid was first postulated to be an efficient antioxidant when it was found to prevent the symptoms of vitamin C and vitamin E deficiency.
AlphaLipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant. As such, it protects the eyes from oxidative free-radical damage.
AlphaLipoic acid is found in a wide variety of foods from both plant and animal sources: kidney, heart and liver meats as well as spinach, broccoli and potatoes.
The dosage is 50-150mg per day.
Ginkgo Biloba is a flavinoid-rich herb. It, too, neutralises free radicals and increases blood flow to the tiny capillaries throughout the body, improving nutrient and oxygen delivery. It may help reduce the risk of cataract formation.
The tablets contain Ginkgo Biloba extract equivalent to 2000mg of dry leaf. The dosage is one tablet three times per day.
Sunlight causes an increase in the rate at which harmful free radicals are produced in the eye, which causes oxidative damage, contributing to age-related cataract formation.
It is generally recommended, therefore, that ultraviolet proof sunglasses be warn when in direct sunlight, especially that reflected from snow and the ocean.
The importance of sunlight in health as discussed in detail in my November 2007 ‘Sunlight and Health’. With a healthy diet of dominantly alkali-forming foods and antioxidant supplements, the need for routine use of sunglasses would appear unnecessary.
A healthy lifestyle, a diet as set-out in ‘How to Live to 100+ Years Free from Symptoms and Disease’ (see homepage), and a selection of the above natural supplements will aid in the prevention of age-related cataracts and will help slow the progression of existing ones, especially in the early stages.
This approach is strongly recommended also for those at special risk, such as those with diabetes or those taking steroid medication.
* Copyright 2008: The Huntly Centre.
Disclaimer: All material on the huntlycentre.com.au website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.
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