How to Prevent Cataracts Naturally

Cataracts, a clouding of the eye's lens, are the world's leading cause of blindness. Aging is the leading cause, and that's not something you can influence. But there are natural ways you can help prevent cataracts and preserve your vision.

This article looks at some lifestyle changes that can lower your risk of cataracts, as well as what is known about the use of alternative medicine for this purpose. It also provides some background on cataracts and the symptoms they cause.

Doctor examining a patient's eye

Martin Barraud / Getty Images

Causes and Symptoms of Cataracts

The lens is a transparent structure mostly made up of water and protein fibers. It is responsible for letting light rays pass onto the retina, the part of your eye that enables you to see light, color, and detail.

When the fibers in the lens clump together, as with cataracts, the lens loses its clarity. This can lead to blurred vision and, if left untreated, complete blindness.

Cataract symptoms include:

  • Dim or blurred vision
  • Loss of distance vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescription
  • Difficulties with night vision
  • Seeing a halo or glare around lights
  • Double vision in one eye
  • Loss of depth perception

In most cases, cataracts form because of age-related deterioration. They can also develop in younger people, however. Eye injuries, eye diseases, or inflammation are some of the other things that can cause cataracts.

Cataracts tend to develop slowly and cause no pain. Early detection is the key to keeping cataracts in check. For this reason, people ages 65 and older should get their eyes examined at least once every other year.

Lifestyle Changes

Making healthy changes in your daily routine is a good way to reduce your risk of developing cataracts later in life. This includes things like quitting smoking, limiting your alcohol consumption, and protecting your eyes from the sun.

Quit Smoking

People who smoke have a much greater risk of developing cataracts later in life. One study found that smoking more than 15 cigarettes a day was associated with a 42% increase in risk. It also found that quitting can reduce that risk by up to 21% over 20 or more years.

Limit Your Consumption of Alcohol

Consuming more than two alcoholic drinks a day is associated with an increased risk of developing age-related cataracts. However, there is also some evidence that low to moderate consumption of alcohol may have a protective effect. One study found drinking low to moderate amounts of wine may help reduce your risk of developing cataracts by 14% to 23%.

Limit Your UV Exposure

Studies have found a relationship between long-term exposure to ultraviolet light and the development of cataracts. People who have occupations that require spending a lot of time outdoors are at particular risk.

Sunglasses can help protect your eyes from ultraviolet light while you are outdoors. Ideally, it would be best to choose a pair of sunglasses that block at least 99% of UVA and UVB radiation. If your occupation puts you at risk for eye injury, make sure also to wear protective eyewear.

Get Routine Eye Exams

Cataract testing is done as a part of a comprehensive eye exam. You should have eye exams regularly, especially as you get older.

For adults without risk factors, the American Optometric Association recommends getting an eye exam every two years up until the age of 64. After the age of 64, you should get an exam every year. If you are at risk of developing cataracts or other eye problems, you should get an exam every year regardless of age.

Manage Related Conditions

Some conditions put you at greater risk for developing cataracts. These include:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Obesity
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Diabetes

If you have any of these conditions, it is important to make sure they are well-managed. If you have diabetes, for example, make sure your blood sugar is under control. If you are obese, lifestyle changes like good nutrition and exercise can help you reduce your weight and your risk of developing cataracts. 

Nutrition

There is evidence that good nutrition can help reduce your risk of developing cataracts. Certain antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve eye health.

Fill Up on Antioxidants

A 2014 meta-analysis looked at data from studies involving 42,000 subjects. It found that dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin was associated with a lower risk of developing cataracts. These antioxidants are found in yellow or dark-green leafy vegetables.

The authors also found that the risk continued to decrease as dietary intake of these antioxidants increased.

Lutein and zeaxanthin can help filter out harmful ultraviolet light in an eye's lens. They may also help stop or minimize damage to the proteins and fibers in the lens.

Get Your Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are known to fight inflammation. Many studies have found evidence that dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a decrease in the risk of developing cataracts.

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in foods like walnuts, flaxseed, and many types of seafood.

What About Alternative Medicine?

Animal-based research has shown that bilberry extract may help protect the lens of the eye from UV damage. Bilberry is an herb rich in antioxidants.

Other animal studies have found that curcumin, an anti-inflammatory compound found in the curry spice turmeric, may delay the development of cataracts brought on by diabetes.

That said, the results of animal studies cannot automatically be considered applicable to humans.

Overall, there is limited research into the use of alternative medicine for cataract prevention. Because of this, it's too soon to recommend using these kinds of remedies for this purpose.

If you are considering trying any alternative remedies, consult with your healthcare provider first. And remember that avoiding or delaying standard care can have serious consequences.

Summary

Cataracts are a leading cause of blindness. Many people develop them as they get older.

There are ways to reduce your risk of developing cataracts. Limit your exposure to UV light, avoid smoking and alcohol, and increase your intake of yellow or dark-green leafy vegetables. Make sure to get plenty of omega-3s and consider taking bilberry or turmeric supplements. 

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