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Herbs, Nutrition, and Cataracts


Age-related cataract is a leading cause of blindness in the world today. While the exact cause of cataracts is unknown, scientific investigation is continuing to determine whether consuming herbs, nutritional supplements, and healthy foods can reduce the risk of developing cataracts.

Human studies exploring use of herbs to slow or prevent cataracts appear scarce. But Integrative Medicine reference book cites research using rats in which the herb, turmeric, reduced cataract formation. Remember, however, to never undertake use of any herb as a medicinal remedy without consulting your doctor first.

Turmeric is an antioxidant. And generally eating a healthy diet rich in antioxidants and certain vitamins has been shown in some studies to possibly reduce the risk of cataracts or their progression.

Diet, Oxidative Stress, and Cataracts

Oxidative stress results when we have an imbalance between damaging free radicals and the antioxidants that keep them in check. Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms (molecules) that are highly reactive with other atoms and molecules because they have unpaired electrons. In the body, a free radical is usually an oxygen molecule that self-stabilizes by taking an electron from another molecule, which in turn tries to take an electron from another molecule, and so on. Free radicals damage the body by stealing electrons from the normally healthy cells of organs and other tissues. This process of stealing electrons from healthy cells is called oxidation.

In the eye, oxidation affects proteins and fats in the lens to the extent that the lens becomes damaged and cloudy, creating what we call cataracts. Preventing free radical damage with healthy foods, particularly those containing antioxidants, may help slow down this process.

Free radicals that damage our eyes and the rest of the body may originate from exposure to pollution or chemicals, smoking, radiation exposure, and eating unhealthy foods. Some free radicals occur from normal daily metabolism, which means even people who don't have those exposures need antioxidants found in the healthy foods we eat.

Antioxidants include some vitamins and phytochemicals that can be found in the foods we eat. Vitamin C, vitamin A, lutein, and vitamin E are some examples of antioxidants that have been shown in studies possibly to reduce the risk of cataracts. These antioxidants, as well as others, are easily obtained from eating a diet containing plentiful amounts of fruits and colorful or dark green vegetables. The compounds that give fruits and vegetables their colors contain the antioxidants that help keep us healthy.





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