In the first article of this two part series, I discussed the role of nutrition in nearsightedness as well as the general nutritional principles that govern eye health. In this article I will focus on presbyopia, cataracts and macular degeneration.
Presbyopia is more commonly known as "middle-aged sight" - the deterioration of near vision as a person ages, with the need for reading glasses beginning at about age forty or fifty.
Presbyopia occurs when the lens loses enough of its plasticity and elasticity so that it can no longer adequately respond to the visual demand to focus at near. The lens has no blood supply of its own, receiving nutrients through the ciliary body. The lens' cells will break down when they do not receive the proper supply of nutrients. Presbyopia is one symptom of this breakdown. If the breakdown of the lens continues, the stage is set for cataract formation.
Therefore, it would seem logical that the presbyopic eye would respond to the same kind of nutritional approaches that have been shown to prevent cataract formation. In fact, Dr. Gary Price Todd, one of the first nutritional ophthalmologists is finding exactly that. Patients following his nutritional treatment for cataracts are finding that their presbyopia often improves as well.
An Italian study, conducted nearly 50 years ago, found that vitamin E - an anti-oxidant critical in the prevention of cataracts - helped presbyopic people regain their near point vision. Unfortunately, other than this one study, no other nutritional research has been done on presbyopia.
In the United States, approximately four million people have some degree of cataracts, while 40,000 are blinded due to cataracts. One in every five people over 55 are afflicted with cataracts, and as many as half of those over 75 are at risk. Worldwide, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness.
The standard treatment for cataracts is surgery. In fact, cataract surgery is the most common of all surgical procedures practiced in the United States, with more than 500,000 performed each and every year.
94% of cataract surgeries are successful, with lower vision resulting in less than 6 out of every 100 procedures. Though one of the safest operations it still has some degree of risk associated with it.
Even though the surgical treatment for cataracts is highly successful, it is an extremely costly procedure. Each cataract surgery (one eye only) done in the United States costs approximately $5,000. Every year, over 4 billion dollars are spent - just by Medicare alone! - for cataract surgery.
As people live longer and longer, the incidence of cataracts can only increase, if no preventative measures are taken. If the development of cataracts could be delayed by 10 years, the National Eye Institute estimates that half of all cataract surgery could be eliminated, saving billions of dollars every year in medical costs.
There is plenty of evidence that cataracts can be prevented, and their growth arrested, with proper nutrition. "With the right nutritional supplements, prevention could be very close to 100%," says Dr. Todd.
Most research in the United States has focused on the prevention of cataracts. It is a generally accepted fact that cataracts are a degenerative disease caused by free radical damage and that they can be prevented with anti-oxidant vitamins C and E, beta carotene and some trace minerals, including selenium and chromium.