A cataract is the gradual clouding of the lens of the eye. Common in every country, culture and people group, cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss in individuals over the age of 55. No one likes this fact, but cataracts are a natural part of the aging process. About one in six Americans over the age of 40 has a cataract, and over half of all Americans will have a cataract by the age of 70.
Cataracts are caused, in general, by oxidative stress from radiation from the sun and harmful chemicals in our environment known as free radicals. To combat this process, the eye lens has complex protective and repair mechanisms that help prevent vision damage. As we age, however, these preventative and restorative mechanisms lose efficiency and the transparent lens becomes more opaque. This opacity makes it difficult (and eventually impossible) for the lens to transmit light and focus it on the retina, and the result is gradual vision loss.
Although there is no way to prevent the development of cataracts, there are certain risk factors that increase your chances of developing cataracts earlier:
- Overexposure to UV rays. How often do you go outside without wearing eye protection or sunscreen? You are doing irreparable damage to your eyes by not protecting them from the sun’s damaging rays. Sunglasses that offer 100 percent UVA and UVB protection will help prevent oxidative stress to your eye lens. Always apply sunscreen to your face, neck, and other exposed skin to prevent UV damage.
- Smoking. There are over 4,000 toxic chemicals in a cigarette, and those chemicals are harmful to all cells in your body, including cells in the lenses of your eyes. Quitting smoking is one of the best gifts you can give to yourself.
- Eating an unhealthy diet. A high-fat, low-fiber diet does not provide the essential vitamins and nutrients that your body needs. Healthy vision requires a diet centered on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and a small amount of good fats like omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats. Talk to your doctor about referring you to a licensed nutritionist or dietitian if you think you would benefit from some nutrition counseling.
Cataracts do not have to play a role in your near future. Push cataract development back a decade by committing to a healthy lifestyle. You’ll be more pleased with your appearance, feel more energetic and enjoy clear, crisp vision!