The world is changing. Our concepts of Western medicine have shifted with new research coming out regularly supporting the benefit of lifestyle, diet and targeted supplementation. The approach of a symptom oriented treatment protocol isolates the person from the health condition, defining them in terms of diagnosis and specific medications for that diagnosis. The holistic and Eastern Medicine approach seeks to look at each person as a unique individual so treatment strategies can often vary from person to person even with the same diagnosis. By combining the medical approaches of the East and West along with other alternative health modalities, we may be able to achieve better health with less cost and greater success in helping patients preserve vision.
Types and Prevalence – Complementary Approach
Though most conventional physicians attribute cataracts to general aging, we believe that a cataract is often a symptom of an underlying condition due to a metabolic imbalance. It signals that the natural processes of your body are breaking down on some level, and that the normal flow of nutrients into the eyes, and waste products out of the eyes, has been compromised. While we do recommend cataract surgery for those with moderate to severe vision loss, we prefer to use complementary therapies, including nutritional intervention, where surgery is not considered essential. Through these and other complementary medical treatments, it is possible to slow and even reverse the growth of cataracts. Even people preparing for cataract surgery should seek to improve their overall health before they go through this invasive procedure, as this will aid in healing times and help protect the retina. Because cataracts typically progress slowly over many years there is often time for preventive measures to work quite successfully.
Nutrients – Essential Combinations.
Studies have also shown that rather than looking at vitamins and nutrients in isolation, combinations tend to decrease cataract risk significantly. For example, a combination of antioxidant group carotenes, vitamins A and C, and an omega-3 group were more effective than those nutrients in isolation. Another study showed a combination of vitamins B1, B2, B3, C, E, and carotene in the diet significantly lessened the risk of all cataract types. Vitamin C (buffered and ascorbated). 2,000mg per day (buffered and ascorbated), split up and taken with meals. The normal healthy lens of the eye contains a higher level of vitamin C than any other organ of the body, except the adrenals. When cataracts are forming there is a decreased level of vitamin C in the aqueous humor as well as in the overall body. Vitamin C has been shown to control sugar imbalances that often play a role in cataract formation. Source. Good sources are citrus fruits, red peppers, and tomatoes.
Note: When supplementing with vitamin C, for better absorption make sure the formula you take is ascorbated and buffered (to slow the breakdown of vitamin C and extend absorption time in the body) with nutrients such as bioflavonoids, rutin, rosehips, calcium, magnesium, and/or potassium. Plain ascorbic acid flushes out of the body quickly. Glutathione. 500mg–900mg, if taken in capsule or pill form. The sublingual form has 5-10 times greater absorption so the dosage will be smaller. Follow label instructions. Referred to as the anti-aging antioxidant, glutathione is considered the most important antioxidant made by the body.
It is very effective in preventing cataract formation and is crucial in possibly altering free radical damage. Some studies have shown that many lenses with cataracts contain approximately one fifth of the amount of glutathione as compared to normal lenses. Glutathione levels are even lower in nuclear cataract lenses compared to cortical cataract lenses.
Source. Food sources that help boost glutathione naturally include: milk thistle extract, whey protein, and foods high in sulfur such as arugula, avocado, bok choy, Brazil nuts, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, dried apricots, eggs, garlic, kale, mustard greens, onions, radishes, roasted peanuts, turnips, and watercress.
The Perfect Pair: Glutathione and Vitamin C
The importance of vitamin C to eye health cannot be understated; concentrations of vitamin C in the lens are 20–30 times higher than those in the plasma. Vitamin C doesn’t work alone: it needs glutathione to improve the use of ascorbic acid (the purist form of vitamin C) in the body. Glutathione and vitamin C are thought to work together to promote proper water balance withinmthe lens and prevent the protein clumping that can lead to cataracts.
- Lutein. 6mg–20mg per day. This powerful antioxidant is found both in the lens of the eye and retina, and it helps protect the eyes from damage due to sunlight exposure by filtering out light.
- Zeaxanthin. 2mg–12mg per day. This powerful antioxidant is found in the lens of the eye and the retina, which helps protect the eyes from damage due to sunlight exposure by filtering out light.
- Alpha-lipoic acid. 120mg–300mg per day. Alpha-lipoic acid has been found to halt complications resulting from blood sugar imbalances and hardening of the lens. Oxidative damage results in cataract formation, and increasing antioxidants, particularly alpha-lipoic acid, can help prevent or stop cataract formation.
An optimal potency multivitamin is an important foundation of any cataract prevention program. It should include flavonoids and carotenoids. Scientists found that the risk of cataract formation decreased in the regular users of multivitamin supplements (one-third risk decrease).
Flavonoids. 1,000mg per day. Quercetin and rutin are important antioxidants that are synergistic with vitamin C, meaning they need each other to work efficiently. Of the two, quercetin seems to be one of the most effective flavonoids in the prevention of cataracts.
- Green tea extract. 500mg–725mg per day. High in antioxidants, this supplement helps protect the eyes against oxidative damage.39
- Selenium. 200mcg per day. Patients with senile cataracts were found to have significantly lower blood- and intraocular levels of the mineral selenium than controls
- N-acetyl-carnosine. 500mg per day. Statistical analysis revealed the significant differences over 6 and 24 months in cumulative positive changes of overall characteristics of cataracts in a group taking NAC.
- Bilberry, 180mg–240mg per day, taken along with vitamin E, 400 IU per day. Some studies suggest that bilberry may slow cataract formation. Bilberry combined with vitamin E stopped cataract formation in 48 of 50 patients with senile cortical cataracts.42 In an animal model supplementationwith bilberry extract helped to protect DNA and improve enzyme activity in lens tissue.
- Resveratrol. 250mg per day. Resveratrol activates an enzyme called sirtuin type 1 (SIRT1), which protects against oxidative stress in human lens epithelial cells.This enzyme inhibits oxidation in the eye’s lens and protects against cataract development.
- Melatonin. 1mg–3mg before bedtime. Melatonin can help increase levels of reduced glutathione in the body.
- Milk thistle. Suggested dosage 480mg–960mg per day. Milk thistle contains silymarin (its main ingredient), which possesses both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Because of this, milk thistle may help boost glutathione by preventing glutathione depletion in the liver andhelping to cleanse the liver, which is essential for lens health.
- Vitamin E. Suggested dosage 400 IU per day. In percentages that were statistically significant, studies have found that high levels of dietary vitamin E, supplemental vitamin E, and high levels of vitamin E in the bloodstream are all tied to a lower risk of cataract. As the levels of vitamin E dropped, the incidence of cataract increased.
- Saffron. An interesting and related study found that crocin, a saffron apocarotenoid, was helpfulin reducing diabetic cataracts.
This is Part One of a Two Part Article.
Marc Grossman, Doctor of Optometry and New York State Licensed Acupuncturist is author of several books, including Natural Eye Care- Your Guide to Healthy Vision. Since 1980 Dr. Marc Grossman has helped many people maintain healthy vision and even improve eyesight. He is best described as a Holistic Eye Doctor, dedicated to helping people with such conditions ranging from myopia and dry eyes to potentially vision threatening diseases as macular degeneration and glaucoma. His combined multi-disciplinary approach using nutrition, eye exercises, lifestyle changes and Chinese Medicine provides him with a wide array of tools and approaches to tackle difficult eye problems. Dr. Grossman founded the Rye Learning Center in 1980, a multidisciplinary center for learning problems, in 1996 co-founded Integral Health Associates in New Paltz, New York, and in 1999 co-founded Natural Eye Care, Inc. For more information go to www.naturaleyecare.com or call 845-255-8222.