What is a cataract?
A cataract occurs when part of the lens of the eye becomes cloudy. Cataracts can develop in anyone from newborn babies to adults, but they’re most common in seniors. In fact, it’s been estimated that more than half of people over the age of 75 will get them.
What causes cataracts?
It’s easy to believe that a cataract is something that “gets in” the eye or develops there, because the common treatment for cataracts is to remove them surgically. Actually, what’s being removed is the lens, which is a natural part of the eye.
The lens sits at the front of the eye and acts as a filter of ultraviolet (UV) light. It’s composed of proteins which can turn cloudy when damaged. At first these cloudy spots don’t affect vision, but as time goes on they can grow, until the entire lens becomes opaque, leading to severely impaired vision or even blindness.
The most common cause of damage to the lens is frequent or progressive exposure to UV light. Other causes include overexposure to infrared light, exposure to radiation, cigarette smoking (but not secondhand smoke), and contraction of an infection like German measles or mumps during pregnancy. Cataracts are also frequently seen in people with diabetes mellitus.
Cataracts occur more frequently as people age because the pineal gland stops working. This is a natural part of the aging process, but its main effect, a decrease in the amount of melatonin, is troublesome. Melatonin, besides being necessary for the body to use light properly, helps prevent damage from free radicals. When there is less of it in the body, the risk of free radical damage increases. This risk is even greater in people who are exposed to a lot of ultraviolet light, or who smoke cigarettes (because of a chemical that accumulates in the lens).
Treatment of cataracts
Traditional medicine does not usually treat this condition until it’s severe enough to affect vision. When that happens, the lens is surgically removed and replaced with an artificial one. However, Dr. James Balch believes that surgery isn’t always the answer. In his book Ten Natural Remedies that Can Save Your Life, Dr. Balch says that not only does surgery sometimes need to be repeated, but it can also contribute to macular degeneration, an even more serious eye condition that leads to irreversible blindness.
Cataracts that affect vision to the point where the person has trouble with daily activities probably need surgery. But if they haven’t processed to this stage, it may be possible to slow, or perhaps even stop, that progression. Here are a few recommended remedies:
– Glutathione is an antioxidant that can help prevent damage to the fatty outer covering of the lens. It’s normally produced by the body, but like melatonin its levels decrease as we age. It’s available as a nutritional supplement.
– Vitamin C has antioxidant qualities that may decrease both the occurrence of cataracts and their severity in people who already have them. But studies have found that this action stops when the vitamin C is discontinued, so it needs to be taken every day, rather than for a short period of time.
– Vitamin E, because it’s fat-soluble, can get into the wall of the lens. Once it’s there, it can assist the action of vitamin C.
– Other antioxidants that may help prevent cataracts include quercetin (a bioflavonoid that enhances the action of vitamin C), grape seed extract, selenium, and superoxide dismutase (SOD).
– Dr. Jeffrey Anshel, in his book Smart Medicine for Your Eyes, also recommends avoiding foods that can promote the formation of free radicals, like oils that have been heated (whether in normal processing or through cooking). He believes that cold-pressed oils are the only ones that should be used in cooking.
A final note
Cataracts can occur on their own-as part of the aging process-or with other conditions, some of which can be quite serious-like diabetes. If you have any problems with your vision, you should always get them checked by a doctor to get a definitive diagnosis. Even if you’ve been diagnosed with cataracts, you should still consult with your doctor to be sure that any supplements you’re thinking of taking won’t be harmful to you or interfere-or interact-with any of your other medications.