Long recognized as a source of vision loss, Cataracts and forms of surgery to attempt to correct the condition have been around for at least 4000 years. In fact, Cataracts were written about in records from the time of Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician, as well as in the Bible and in ancient Hindu documents. Considering just how devastating vision loss is today even with support systems for the visually impaired, we can only imagine the difficulty that those with Cataracts would have faced in ancient times.
Though there are a number causes for Cataracts including aging, the end result is the same with a clouding in the lens of the eye that prevents the proper movement of light into the eye. The severity of this light obstruction in the lens can vary considerably causing widely varying levels of vision loss to people with the condition.
Among the causes of Cataracts, those occurring as a result of aging are extremely common with roughly 33% to 43% of people in the age range of 60 to 80 at risk for development of the condition. In the UK, some 300,000 Cataract procedures are performed each year and in the US, Cataract procedures are the single biggest cost to Medicare. Worse still is that by 2025, Johns Hopkins' Researchers estimate that the number of cases will have increased by 50% from levels in 2004.
With these sorts of statistics, it is quite clear that prevention of cataracts would result in significant savings to health systems and individuals. Fortunately, as medical science continues to increase the understanding of Cataracts, researchers continue to find ways in which each of us can reduce our risks for developing the condition.
Below are six ways that individuals can reduce the risks of developing Cataracts:1. Sun Exposure
One of the most well known ways of reducing the risks of Cataracts is by avoiding the UV rays of the sun. This involves using sun glasses that block at least 99% of the ultraviolet-A (UV-A) and ultraviolet-B (UV-B) rays from reaching the eyes. Wrap around sunglasses are the best because they block UV rays from all directions. Even when in the shade or in the cool of the winter, it is important to consider such eye protection when outdoors because the UV rays can reflect off of sand, snow, water and even pavement.2. Stop Smoking
Another relatively well advertised cause of Cataracts is smoking. Given that cigarettes cause genetic damage and do so in every part of the body, it is not surprising that smoking causes damage to the highly sensitive structure of the eye lens. In particular, smoking contributes to the creation of highly reactive free radical chemicals in the eye. Free radicals are a known cause of damage to the proteins in the lens of the eyes so stopping smoking is important for ensuring better vision.3. Exercise
No list of illness prevention option would be complete without a reference to exercise. In the case of Cataracts, researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found, in a study of more than 40,000 runners, that men who ran more than 5.7 miles/9.2 km per day reduced their risk of cataracts by 35% as compared to those who ran less than 1.4 miles/2.3 km per day. While a 10km run may be beyond many people's level of commitment, certainly running for an average of 15 to 20 minutes is not an unreasonable option to lower one's risk.4. Tea and Caffeine
Moving into the less common ways of reducing cataract risk, researchers from the University of Scranton found that green and black tea both "significantly inhibited cataract formation". Less than an equivalent of 5 cups of tea per day was sufficient to provide the benefit.
In related research, another beneficial component of coffee
and tea for Cataract prevention is caffeine. Researchers from the University of Maryland found that in mice, caffeine protected the lens of the eye from damage. Though they don't know why, their theory is that caffeine limits the creation of lens-damaging free radicals.5. Diet
While carrots have long been regarded as good for the eyes, it is actually other foods that offer some protection against Cataracts. Specifically, scientists from research institutions including Brigham and Women's Hospital found that women who consumed the most dark or yellow leafy green vegetables had an 18% lower risk of developing Cataracts than did women who ate the least or none of these vegetables.
In a related study, researchers found that the antioxidant ingredients contained in both these vegetables and in eggs along with other ingredients in eggs has a potential to significantly reduce the risks for developing Cataracts. If eggs and vegetables are not part of an individual's diet, they should be considered.6. Dietary Supplements
Where such beneficial nutrients cannot be obtained in sufficient quantity directly from foods, supplements are an important means to add these nutrients to our diets. A study from Tufts University found that regular use of both vitamins B and E were significant in reducing the risks of Cataracts.
A lesser-known supplement also found in lab studies to reduce Cataract risk was the antioxidant carnosine. In their research at the University of Palermo, researchers found that the supplement reduced the amount of cloudiness in the lens by 50 to 60%. While it has not yet been tested when taken in pill form, taking the supplement with support from one's doctor is a prudent step for reducing Cataract risk.
Last, but certainly not least, the highly touted and more highly promoted extract of red wine, resveratrol is also beneficial for prevention of Cataracts. From research involving the National Institutes of Health and a number of other research institutions, scientists determined that mice fed resveratrol supplements had fewer Cataracts in old age. The reduction in Cataract rates was directly linked to the amount of the supplement consumed.Conclusion
While aging is, at this stage in human history, inevitable, medical science is making living at an older age more livable. When it comes to Cataracts and age-related vision loss, there are a number of options for individuals to take in order to reduce their risk. Knowledge is power and increasingly, medical science is putting more information in our hands. Taking advantage of this knowledge gives us each the power to have a bright future.
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