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Keep Your Eyes Young

* 14 percent of Americans over the age of 40 develop cataracts
* Almost one half of all Americans will develop a significant
cataract after reaching age 75
* Worldwide health care costs associated with cataracts are estimated to be $6 billion every year

The lens of the eye has two natural enemies: blue ultraviolet light, and oxygen free radicals. Fortunately there are defenses against both enemies: blue UV light can be filtered out with good sunglasses, and free radicals can be neutralized with proper nutrition. Researchers at a Tufts University nutrition and vision research laboratory recently released a study on the effects of specific nutrients in preventing cataracts from forming on the eye lens. In the current issue of Agriculture Research Magazine, the leader of the Tufts research team - bio-organic chemist Allen Taylor - explained how the lens can become
damaged. As we age, free radicals damage crystallins, a set of proteins in lens cells. Taylor compares crystallins to fiber optics, "allowing light to pass through the lens and onto the retina." The oxidation damage creates a clouding of the lens that gradually becomes more opaque and reduces vision. This is how a cataract develops.

Taylor designed the study based on food frequency statistics gathered over the course of 13 years on almost 500 women (aged 53 to 73) enrolled in the Nutrition and Vision Project - a substudy of the Nurses' Health Study. Taylor's team also conducted eye exams on all of the subjects. After analyzing the data, researchers found that women with the lowest amount of lens-clouding opacification, also had the highest intake of the antioxidant phytonutrients lutein, zeaxanthin, folate, beta carotene, and riboflavin, as well as the highest intake of the antioxidant vitamins C and E. The researchers theorize that antioxidants help promote the function of protein-digesting enzymes that are believed to remove damaged proteins, and halt the gradual formation of cataracts.

But one more critical detail stood out among the study's conclusions: Women who had taken daily vitamin C supplements for more than a decade were 64 percent less likely to show signs of the opacification that leads to cataracts than the women who took no vitamin C supplements at all.

Good food sources of xanthophylls include kiwi, red seedless grapes, orange-colored peppers, spinach, celery, brussels sprouts, scallions, broccoli, and squash. So even though you may be getting effective cataract-fighting benefits from vitamin C supplements, the nutrients in these foods will very likely give a considerable boost to your overall vision health.

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