How poor diet and lifestyle can lead to cataracts

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				                                Photo courtesy of the Richmond County Cooperative Extension The results of cataracts on eyesight.

Photo courtesy of the Richmond County Cooperative Extension

The results of cataracts on vision.

June not only heralds the summer season, but is also the month of cataract awareness.

Cataracts occur in the lens of the eye. The lens is behind the iris, the colored part of the eye. The function of the lens is to focus the light on the retina, which transmits images through the optic nerve to the brain. Usually the lens of our eyes is clear, but when cataracts occur, the area of ​​the lens becomes cloudy or opaque. Cataracts can affect eyesight depending on the location. When cataracts occur, both eyes are usually affected, but one can be more serious than the other.

Although most cataracts are related to age-related changes in the lens of the eye, there are other factors that can contribute to the development of cataracts. According to the American Optometric Association, lifestyle plays a role in the causes and risk factors of cataracts. Studies have shown a possible link between smoking and increased lens opacity. Compared to people with little to no alcohol consumption, several studies show that people with higher alcohol consumption have more cases of cataract development.

Diabetics have no control over their blood sugar levels, and this can cause the lens to swell, putting people with diabetes at greater risk of cataracts. Some drugs can also cause cataracts, such as corticosteroids, chlorpromazine, and other phenothiazine-related drugs. Family history is also a factor in cataract occurrence. If a close relative has had cataracts, a person is more likely to develop cataracts.

The American Optometric Association notes that nutritional deficiency can be another factor linked to cataract formation. Studies suggest that low levels of antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and carotenoids can increase the incidence of cataracts. When combined with other essential nutrients, these nutrients can prevent cataracts and slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration and loss of visual acuity.

To get more vitamin C in your diet, consume more of these foods: oranges, papaya, green peppers, strawberries, bell peppers, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and mangoes. Vitamin E is important to protect the cells in the eyes from unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radicals break down healthy tissue. Vitamin E is found in safflower and corn oils, nuts, wheat germ, sweet potatoes, beet greens, kale, and spinach, to name a few.

Studies show that carotenoids, pigments in plants, contribute to the bright red, yellow, or orange color in foods we eat, such as sweet potatoes, watermelon, melon, peppers, and carrots. Carotenoids act as an antioxidant for humans. They are also beneficial to lower the risk of developing new cataracts. Some carotenoids can be converted into vitamin A when released into the body. Lutein and zeaxanthin are common carotenoids that are beneficial for eye health. The main sources of lutein and zeaxanthin are dark green leafy vegetables and colorful fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, peas, corn, persimmons and tangerines. Zinc plays an important role in transporting vitamin A from the liver to the retina. Poor eyesight and cloudy cataracts have been linked to zinc deficiency. Sources of zinc include oysters, red meat, shellfish, nuts, and cheese.

As we recognize Cataract Awareness Month, now is a good time to visit your optometrist, plan meals that include foods that will support eye health, and make lifestyle changes that will benefit eyesight. For more information on the benefits of a healthy diet and incorporating physical activity into your daily life, please contact Cheri Bennett at [email protected], Richmond County Family Consumer Science Agent.

The Richmond County Cooperative Extension Office helps the producers and citizens of this great county provide research-based education and technology. The office is located at 123 Caroline St. in Rockingham and can be reached at 910-997-8255 or richmond.ces.ncsu.edu for more information.

Cheri Bennett is the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent for the Richmond County Cooperative Extension.