Reduce Cataract Risk with Fruit and Whole Grains
By Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP)
Healthnotes Newswire (October 14, 2004)—People who eat more fruit and whole grains have a lower risk of developing cataracts, according to the Journal of Nutrition (2004;134:1812–9). The reduced cataract risk was also observed in those who adhered to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (also known as the Food Pyramid). These nutritional guidelines were established to advise Americans about eating habits that best ensure health and prevent disease.
A cataract is a clouding of the eye lens that leads to blurred or obstructed vision. The leading cause of visual disability in the United States, cataracts occur most often in the elderly, although they are occasionally seen in younger people. Given its prevalence, it is noteworthy that some studies suggest that dietary deficiencies or poor diet may contribute to cataract formation. The new study adds to the body of evidence suggesting that a cataract may be prevented by consuming more of certain foods and eating a well-balanced diet.
In the new study, 479 women between 52 and 73 years who did not have a cataract prior to starting the study completed a food frequency questionnaire periodically over a 9- to 11-year period. Women were asked to record their intake and quantity of specific foods, as well as nutritional supplements. Detailed eye examinations were performed in all women initially and again after completing the four food questionnaires. The quality of each woman’s diet was assessed, including the intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and the variety of all of the recommended foods (Recommended Food Score). The Healthy Eating Index (HEI), a measurement of how well the women adhered to the dietary recommendations, was also utilized. The Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming daily 6 to 11 servings of whole grains, 3 to 5 servings of vegetables, and 2 to 4 servings of fruit.
Women who ate the most fruit and whole grains (top quartile) were less likely to have a cataract than those whose intake ranked in the lowest quartile. Participants in the highest two categories of the HEI had more than a 50% lower risk of developing a cataract, but this effect was limited to those who did not take supplemental vitamin C. However, a higher HEI score was found to be more protective against cataracts than any of the individual components, suggesting that reducing the risk of cataracts involves multiple aspects of a healthy eating pattern, rather than consuming a single food group. Because the Dietary Guidelines do not recommend consuming any specific food, the study only examined the intake of food groups. It is unknown whether the beneficial effects of following these guidelines in preventing cataracts is due to eating foods rich in vitamin C.
A previous study published by the same authors showed that taking more than 362 mg per day of vitamin C (from food and supplement sources) for more than ten years significantly reduced the incidence of cataracts. Another study found that supplemental vitamin C halted the progression of cataracts, but the amount needed to be effective was at least 1,000 mg per day. Other nutrients and nutritional supplements may help protect against the development of cataracts, including beta-carotene, vitamin E, bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), and lutein. See a healthcare provider for specific intake amounts.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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