Nutrition (1993) and Oxidation: Cataracts

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Taylor A., Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 1993 Apr, 12(2):138-46 Pub type: Journal Article; Review; Review, Tutorial. (UI: 93217072)

Opacification of the lens, or cataract, is causally related to the precipitation of proteins or other constituents upon aging. Proteins in the lens are unusually long lived and are subject to extensive damage, including (photo) oxidation. Accumulation of damaged proteins also appears to be due in part to attenuated activity of some proteolytic pathways, which in younger tissue may serve to identify and remove such moieties. The damaged proteins accumulate, aggregate, and precipitate.

Compared with other health problems, surgery to remove cataract and related visits to physicians consume the largest proportion of the Medicare budget, i.e., $3.2 billion annually in the United States. The situation is exacerbated in many parts of the world where there is a dearth of ophthalmologists to perform the required number of procedures. Historically efforts to delay cataract assumed a low profile in ophthalmologic research.

Recent data, however, indicate that consuming elevated levels of antioxidants such as ascorbate, carotenoids, and tocopherol is associated with delayed development of various forms of cataract. The same beneficial relationship to vision pertains to plasma antioxidant status and to fruit and vegetable intake.

Thus, it seems that assuring optimal antioxidant intake can extend lens function. It has been estimated that in the United States over half of the cataract extractions and associated costs would be obviated if cataract could be delayed by 10 years. The data reviewed indicate that optimizing nutrition will help achieve that objective.