According to a great deal of scientific research, the leading cause of impaired vision and blindness in the United States is an entirely preventable condition. Cataracts are white, opaque blemishes on the normally transparent lens of the eye. They occur as a result of damage to the protein structure of the lens, similar to the damage that occurs to the protein of eggs when they are boiled or fried. As a result, cataracts can make it difficult to see. Approximately six million people have some degree of vision-impairing cataract and among U.S. Medicare recipients, cataract surgery is the most common major surgical procedure with nearly one million procedures each year.

The lens of the eye is, obviously, a vital component of the visual system owing to its ability to focus light (via changes in shape) while maintaining optical transparency. Unfortunately, this transparency diminishes with age. The majority of the geriatric population displays some degree of cataract formation. Even with normal aging there is a progressive increase in size, weight, and density of the lens, but cataracts are not necessarily an inevitable occurrence with aging.

The basic cause of a cataract occurs when the normal protective mechanisms are unable to prevent free radical damage. The lens, like many other tissues of the body, depends on adequate levels and activities of antioxidant enzymes and adequate levels of antioxidants such as lutein, vitamins E and C and selenium, to aid in prevention of damage by free radicals. When the lens is sufficiently damages normal homeostatic control of cellular functions are lost and the cell dies causing the protein.

Individuals with higher dietary intakes of vitamin C and E, selenium, and carotenes (especially lutein) have a much lower risk for development of cataracts. Several studies have shown that various nutritional supplements—multiple vitamin formulas, vitamins C and E, B vitamins (especially B12 and folic acid), and vitamin A—also offer significant protection against cataracts. Studies conducted by the Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group (AREDS) and others indicate that a combination of these nutrients will likely produce better results than any single nutrient alone or even limited combinations of 3 or less nutrients both in the prevention of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. For more information go to What are Cataracts?

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