Cataracts are a very real and common problem. To a large extent they are simply one of those predictable gifts of aging. About 50% of Americans who make it to the age of 80 will have cataracts. Of course, you can always get cataract surgery. It's pretty simple and easy, but there are complications. And some of them are serious. These include infection, retinal detachment, glaucoma, secondary cataract, and loss of vision. Last year, I saw two patients who suffered from botched cataract surgery. So is there a better way?
The best way would be to make sure that you are in the 50% of those who make it to 80 who never get cataracts. And a recent study shows one way to help with that plan.
The authors of the study reviewed all of the studies that have been published in the library of medicine up to 2014. They were looking specifically for studies that evaluated whether or not vitamin E intake and vitamin E blood levels affected the chance of getting cataracts. They looked at men and women of all ages and with all kinds of cataracts. Here's what they found.
Higher levels of vitamin E intake reduced the chance of getting cataracts by 27%. Higher blood levels of vitamin E reduced the risk about the same — 25%. In the words of the authors, "The findings of the meta-analysis indicated that dietary vitamin E intake, dietary and supplemental vitamin E intake, and high level of serum tocopherol [vitamin E] might be significantly associated with reduced cataract risk."
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Cataracts can happen from factors other than age. One of them is diabetes and excessive carbohydrate in the diet. Another is eye surgery, and that includes Lasik surgery. Another common cause for cataracts is the excessive use of either steroid eye drops or steroid medications, such as are commonly prescribed for allergies, asthma, and COPD. And one cause of cataracts is particularly obnoxious. It's the eye injections that are often prescribed for macular degeneration. I will have more on this and the other unspoken dangers of these medications in an upcoming issue of Second Opinion.
But if you want to do something really easy to prevent cataracts — and especially if you have any of the other cataract causing factors I just mentioned — be sure to do two things. One, make sure you have your eyes checked at least every two to three years. And two, make sure to take at least 400 units of vitamin E per day. Having a full dose of vitamin E is just another reason why it makes sense for everyone to take a heaping scoop of my Super Immune QuickStart every day just in case.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Zhang Y, Jiang W, Xie Z, et al. Vitamin E and risk of age-related cataract: a meta-analysis. Public Health Nutr. 2015 Jan 16:1-11.