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April 20, 2018  |  Login
 
Cataracts
 
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss in the United States and worldwide. Because they develop gradually, and because most of us tend to associate some vision disturbances with "normal" aging, most cases go undetected until it is too late to stop the damage. This is a shame, because when cataracts are caught in their early stages, it is possible to halt or even reverse their progression. If your eyes are healthy, you can also take steps that may help prevent cataracts altogether.

Cataracts are cloudy or opaque spots that develop on the usually translucent lens of the eye. When these spots first appear, you may not notice any difference in your vision.

Over a period of years, however, the cataract spreads across the lens. You may notice that it's harder to make out details or that colors look different. Night driving becomes more challenging. If you've been farsighted for most of your life, a cataract may actually improve your vision-for a short while. As the cataract continues to grow, it will become more difficult to see medium-sized and larger objects. In the worst-case scenario, cataracts can leave a person completely blind. In fact, 40,000 Americans go blind every year as a result of cataracts.

Most cases fall under the category that doctors call "senile cataracts." These are lens spots that commonly accompany old age, although they are by no means an inevitable part of growing older. We now know that senile cataracts are caused by damage from free radicals, the unbalanced, destructive molecules that destroy cells in the body. While the production of free radicals does naturally increase somewhat with aging, most of these dangerous agents are caused by lifestyle choices. Excess sun exposure, poor diet, and smoking are all primary causes of free radicals. Changing these habits can prevent and sometimes stop cataracts, as can taking steps to supply your body with antioxidants, the substances that fight free radicals.

In some instances, cataracts are inherited or caused by a preexisting disorder. Cataracts that begin in youth or middle age are extremely rare and are usually related to an inherited condition. In addition, people with diabetes and Down's syndrome have a higher risk of developing cataracts than the rest of the population does.

Poor digestive function can be at the root of cataracts. Low stomach acid can lead to malabsorption of nutrients from foods and can create more free radicals. In addition, toxic metals such as cadmium, mercury, and others accelerate free radical damage of the lens. Elevated blood sugar levels, as is seen with diabetes, is a major risk factor for developing cataracts.

If at any stage of your life you experience vision changes, it's important to consult a doctor or an optometrist as soon as possible. For many eye disorders, an early diagnosis can mean effective treatment. Nutritional therapy is important in the prevention and the treatment of cataracts.

 
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