Cataracts are one of the most common eye conditions among seniors. A cataract results in clouding the vision, and eventually causes blindness if not treated. The conventional approach to cataracts is to wait and see if it gets worse. When a cataract is advanced, an eye surgeon usually offers cataract surgery. Cataract surgery uses artificial lenses that correct any clouding due to a cataract. It can correct certain refraction errors at the same time. However, not everyone is a good fit for this treatment. Which nutrients help promote healthy lenses and overall eye health? What does recent research into cataract pharmacotherapy show? And, which combinations of nutrients are the most effective for lens support?
Cataract Surgery: Weighing Your Options
One of the most life-changing and safest surgeries, cataract surgery is a miracle for many. The eye surgeon dilates and numbs the eye, removes the lens painlessly, and inserts an artificial lens. The vast majority of the time, there are no complications. Approximately 1 in 5 patients develop posterior capsule opacity. The doctor can usually correct this complication with an in-office laser procedure. Though risks associated with cataract surgery are low, problems can include eye inflammation, light sensitivity, dislocation of the artificial lens, flashes of light, macular edema, droopy eyelid, increased eye pressure, vitreous and/or retinal tears and detachments. It can also promote retinal bleeding for those prone to this issue.
Some patients want to delay surgery for personal or medical reasons. For example:
- Had the surgery in one eye but had complications; doesn’t want to chance it again
- Has existing eye conditions such as glaucoma; the eye doctor may say that surgery increases risks1 or a history of retinal bleeding, tears or detachments.
- Has vision in only one eye; wants to try something else before getting surgery
- Has other medical problems that take priority; wants to buy more time before getting cataract surgery
- Doctor will not clear them for surgery right now, possibly due to other health conditions
- Does not have the money for surgery right now
- Cannot take time off from work or family responsibilities to get surgery
- Prefers to try a natural approach first
Oxidization Leads to Cataracts
Cloudy patches on the eye’s lens usually form with age. While middle-aged people occasionally develop cataracts, nearly all 80-year-olds have developed cataracts. Keeping the lens clear depends on a complex system of antioxidants in the lens. Scientific studies have shown that lens proteins are protected from oxidization by enzymes and other molecules. The aging body appears to be less efficient at maintaining this system. Studies have shown that glutathione and Vitamin C, for example, are essential antioxidants found in the fluid surrounding the lens. However, these nutrients tend to be very deficient in people with cataracts.2 3
Cloudy patches appear gradually. Cataracts may go unnoticed until the eye doctor sees it. Dull colors, trouble seeing at night, seeing halos, double vision, and light sensitivity increase over time.
Cataract Study Review
A recent (2020) review of the literature4 looked at a wide variety of cataract studies. Scientists know how to force cataracts to form. Thus, they can study the condition in lab animals and tissue samples.
The studies examined anti-cataract compounds. Most of the compounds were naturally-occurring, and some were plant extracts. The cataract review flagged these compounds as the major non-enzymatic antioxidants:
- Glutathione (GSH), a molecule found throughout the body and crucial to cellular functioning
- Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), an antioxidant available only through diet, such as citrus fruits and supplements
- Vitamin E, an antioxidant present in many oils, but stripped out of most processed oils
- Carotenoids, a family of nutrients that scavenge free radicals. Lutein, meso-zeaxanthin, and zeaxanthin are carotenoids found in the eye. Carotenoids give bright colors to certain fruits and vegetables.
- Lutein and zeaxanthin are both antioxidants found in the lens and retina. They help protect the eyes by filtering out UVA light, acting like a pair of internal sunglasses.
Additionally, the review highlighted these enzymatic antioxidants for supporting cataracts:
- Superoxide dismutase (SOD)
- Glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px)
- Glutathione reductase (GSH-Rx)
- Catalase (CAT)
Both types of antioxidants scavenge free radicals to protect the lens. When this system starts to break down with age, the lens is damaged. The result is a cataract, which gets worse over time.
Nutrients That Help Support and Protect the Health of the Lens
At Natural Eye Care, we have been helping people with eye conditions for more than 40 years. Our optometrist, Dr. Marc Grossman, has prepared a special lens supplement package based on the 2020 literature review. The Advanced Lens Support Package 4 contains nutrients aimed at the lens’s antioxidant defense system. True to the study, the package includes glutathione, vitamin C, vitamin E, and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin.
Our custom, broad-spectrum Dr. Grossman’s Advanced Eye & Vision Support Formula has both lutein and zeaxanthin. This powerful eye vitamin is a whole food based, vegetarian, wildcrafted herbal formula. The capsules include bilberry, chlorella, broccoli, carrot root, spinach leaf, turmeric, and prickly pear.
We selected a Vitamin C supplement that has no synthetic ascorbic acid. Totally plant-based, these Vitamin C capsules are easy on the stomach. It is primarily made from amla fruit, cilantro, and rose hips. This formula contains the bioflavonoid hesperidin and the flavonoid quercetin.
Our Vitamin E softgels are derived from non-GMO rice bran oil. The tocotrienols and tocopherols in this formula have an advantage over regular Vitamin E. They have even more powerful effects on the cardiovascular system.
The body manufactures glutathione. However, an oral spray of ACG Glutathione is immediately available to the body. ACG Glutathione oral spray provides both reduced glutathione and other essential nutrients that help the liver produce additional glutathione. This super-antioxidant regulates all other antioxidants and protects against free radical damage. It is one of the few nutrients that neutralize the full spectrum of free radicals in the body.
A current review of the literature found a handful of antioxidants that fight cataracts. The support systems that help keep the lens clear tend to break down in seniors. Cataract surgery is a quick and effective cataract treatment. However, ingesting key antioxidants could buy time for people who are not ready for the surgery. Targeted nutrition for the eye helps keep the lens and entire eye healthy.
- “When You Have Cataracts and Glaucoma” glaucoma.org https://www.glaucoma.org/treatment/when-you-have-cataracts-and-glaucoma.php accessed 5/26/2020 ↩
- Jacques PF, Chylack LT Jr. Epidemiologic evidence of a role for the antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids in cataract prevention. Am J Clin Nutr. 1991;53(1 Suppl):352S‐355S. doi:10.1093/ajcn/53.1.352S ↩
- Giblin FJ. Glutathione: a vital lens antioxidant. J Ocul Pharmacol Ther. 2000;16(2):121‐135. doi:10.1089/jop.2000.16.121 ↩
- Heruye SH, Nkenyi LNM, Singh NU, Yalzadeh D, Ngele KK, et al. (2020). Current Trends in the Pharmacotherapy of Cataracts. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). Jan;13(1):15 ↩