Cataracts: Seeing the Benefits of Vitamin C

Most of us know that vitamin C has many benefits such as helping ward off the common cold. But this essential nutrient found in many fruits and vegetables has another little-known function: It can help slow the progress of cataracts, the most common cause of vision loss in adults over 40.

A recent study confirmed what many ophthalmologists and eye surgeons already know: A healthy diet rich in vitamin C can help replenish the depletion of ascorbic acid in the natural lenses of the human eye. Ascorbic acid is the chemical name for vitamin C. The fluid inside the eye is normally high in vitamin C, which helps prevent oxidation that leads to clouding of the eye lens from cataracts.

Cataracts affect more than 22 million Americans, age 40 and older. Moreover, as the U.S. population ages, more than 30 million Americans are expected to have cataracts by the year 2020.

“Everyone should probably be eating a diet containing vitamin C anyway,” says Geetha Vedula, M.D., an ophthalmologist with the Baptist Eye Surgery Center. “This study confirms what we’ve known for many years — that vitamin C is helpful with slowing down the progression of cataracts. They used twins in the study, and about 2,000 patients were followed over 10 years. The results were very encouraging.”

One-Third Lower Risk of Cataracts

The latest study to tout the eye health benefits of vitamin C examined the dietary habits of more than 1,000 pairs of 60-year-old British female twins. The researchers found that those who consumed high amounts of vitamin C in their diet had a one-third lower risk of cataracts over 10 years. Getting vitamin C through supplements did not appear to reduce the risk, the investigators concluded — although many ophthalmologists may prescribe vitamin C supplements for their patients who suffer from ascorbic acid deficiencies.

Based on the study’s findings, it is believed that a person’s genetics likely account for 35 percent of the risk of cataract progression, while diet and other environmental factors may account for the other 65 percent.

“As we get older, we don’t have the sufficient vitamin C to sustain natural ocular structures,” Dr. Vedula says. “Ascorbic acid is a natural component for eye health. Most cataracts are related to aging. We also prescribe vitamin C in high doses for patients with corneal scarring and other diagnoses.”

Cataract removal has become one of the most common operations performed in the United States. It also is one of the safest and most effective types of surgery. In about 90 percent of cases, people who have cataract surgery have better vision afterward. But surgery is often not even needed or can be delayed for months or years. Many people with cataracts get along very well with the help of eyeglasses, contacts and other vision aids.

Foods High in Vitamin C

Vitamin C is probably the best-known antioxidant. Foods high in vitamin C foods include bell peppers, dark leafy greens, kiwifruit, broccoli, berries, tomatoes, peas, papayas, oranges and other citrus fruits. The current “daily value,” or “DV” as noted on nutrition labels, for vitamin C is 60 mg every day, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In addition, a healthy lifestyle that includes fruits and vegetable, exercise and weight control seems to reflect in a person’s eye health, says Dr. Vedula.

“Even older patients who are overall healthy seem to have smaller cataracts,” she says. “On the other hand, young patients who don’t take care of their general health are getting cataracts earlier. So add cataracts as another good reason to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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