Protect Your Eyes with Fruits and Veggies
By Maureen Williams, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (July 28, 2005)—Women who eat lots of fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of developing cataracts than women who don’t, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2005;81:1417-22).
A cataract is a cloudy patch on the eye lens that is visible during an eye exam. It is usually an age-related change and is the most common cause of blindness in the world. In the Western world, cataract surgery is the most frequent surgery in people over 65 years old. Cataracts cause gradual sight loss that begins as blurry or fuzzy vision. Early cataracts are treated with eyeglasses to correct for worsening vision, but in time surgery is often needed to remove the damaged lens and replace it with an artificial lens. Oxidative damage (cellular injury caused by highly charged oxygen free radical molecules) is believed to be responsible for cataract formation. Some studies have found that antioxidants—compounds that prevent oxidative damage—can prevent cataracts from forming and might slow their progression. Fruits and vegetables are especially rich in antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and bioflavonoids, but little is known about the effect of this general food group on risk of cataract.
The current report comes from a large study known as the Women’s Health Study involving almost 40,000 healthy women at least 45 years old. All of the participants filled out diet questionnaires at the beginning of the study. Reports of cataracts and cataract surgeries were monitored through annual health questionnaires for 10 years. The women were divided into five groups (quintiles) based on their overall fruit and vegetable intake. Women in the lowest quintile ate an average of 2.6 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, while those in the highest quintile ate an average of 10 servings per day. Cataract risk was found to be 17% lower in women in the highest quintile for fruit and vegetable intake compared with women in the lowest. Women who ate the most fruits and vegetables also had a 14% lower likelihood of cataract surgery than those who ate the least, but this difference was not statistically significant.
The results of this study suggest that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides a modest amount of protection against cataracts. Previous studies have found a stronger protective effect from specific vegetables, such as spinach and kale, which are rich in lutein and other carotenoids (antioxidants related to beta-carotene). Vitamin C and vitamin E supplements have also demonstrated cataract-preventing activity in some, but not all, studies. With all of this in mind, people who want to prevent cataracts should eat lots of fruits and vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, and might be well-advised to supplement with extra antioxidants.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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