Cataracts—cloudy, opaque patches in the lens of the eye—are more common as you get older, but they're not necessarily inevitable. What you eat and your lifestyle can play a big part in whether you get cataracts or not—so there are certainly many things you can do to prevent them.
Here are our top tips.
Drink in moderation
When it comes to cataracts, people who indulge in one or two alcoholic drinks a day appear to have the lowest risk compared to heavy drinkers and teetotallers.14 Red wine may be the best choice, as it's rich in antioxidants.
Smokers are more likely to have cataracts. It's thought that the cadmium in cigarettes accumulates in the lens and causes damage.12 Plus, cigarette smoke is rich in free radicals, which can deplete levels of protective antioxidants.13I'm approaching 80, and all my friends seem to have cataracts. Are they just inevitable, or is there anything I can do to prevent them?
Up your antioxidants
Eating a healthy diet that's rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals can protect against cataracts.1 In particular, make sure you get plenty of antioxidants including lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and zinc. People with higher intakes of these nutrients are significantly less likely to have cataracts.2 Fill your plate with lots of colorful fruit and veggies and you should be on the right track, but see the box on page 67 for some top foods to look out for. You could also take a combination antioxidant supplement for extra insurance.
Get your B's
A deficiency in vitamin B2 (riboflavin) has been linked to cataracts,3 and one trial found that older people taking a combination of vitamin B2 and B3 (niacin) supplements had a 44 percent reduced risk of nuclear cataracts—the most common form.4 Vitamin B12 is also an important cataract preventer according to recent research.5 Try to include lots of vitamin B-rich foods in your diet—such as salmon, beef, organ meats, sunflower seeds, eggs and mushrooms—and consider a high-quality B complex supplement, such as Solgar's "50" formula, for added protection.
Drink green tea
A large study in China found that green tea drinkers had a significantly lower risk of age-related cataracts compared to non-drinkers. Green tea is high in vision-supporting antioxidants, and drinking at least 500 mL per day—roughly two cups—should have a protective effect, the researchers said.6
Watch out for these drugs
A number of prescription drugs have been linked to cataracts, including antidepressants,7 hormone replacement therapy (HRT),8 statins,9 oral and inhaled corticosteroids10 and antidiabetes drugs.11 Try to avoid them if you can.
Watch your weight
Obese people are more likely to have cataracts, so staying in shape may be another way to keep your vision sharp.15
Exposure to ultraviolet radiation can contribute to cataracts, so wearing sunglasses—ideally wraparound ones—when you're outdoors might help to save your sight.16 The blue light emitted from computers, tablets and smart phones can also be harmful, so try to keep screen time to a minimum.
Foods that fight cataracts
Kale - Rich in lutein, vitamin C and beta-carotene
Spinach - Rich in lutein, vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene
Eggs (yolk) - Rich in lutein and zeaxanthin
Kiwi - Rich in lutein, vitamin C and vitamin E
Orange pepper - Rich in zeaxanthin, vitamin C and beta-carotene
Corn (maize) - Rich in lutein and zeaxanthin
Red grapes - Rich in lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene
Pumpkin seeds - Rich in zinc, vitamin E and beta-carotene
Cantaloupe melon - Rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene