Are cataracts no big deal? I pose this question because cataract surgery has become so quick and effective that many people now ignore opportunities to protect themselves from getting cataracts in the first place. They assume that their eyes can be made good as new one day with some simple surgery—so why worry about it now?
Please don’t think that way. While cataract surgery has been well-perfected, there is always potential for problems—including retinal detachment. The good news is that there are very simple ways to ward off the cloudiness of cataracts. That’s what I’m here to talk to you about today.
I checked in with Marc Grossman, OD, an optometrist and acupuncturist based in New Paltz, New York, who pursues a holistic approach to eye care. Dr. Grossman has had consistent success in delaying, and even reversing, cataracts using diet and natural supplements.
He told me that cataracts begin forming in the eyes shortly after you pass the age of 50 and currently affect some 22.3 million Americans. He sees one of the keys to cataract prevention as a combination of diet and supplements that boost the body’s level of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that is distinguished by its ability to interfere with the development of cataracts.
“Several studies show that glutathione can prevent the further formation of cataracts,” Dr. Grossman said, “and in my own experience, I’ve seen glutathione reverse the development of cataracts that have already formed.” That’s a pretty extraordinary observation. Dr. Grossman expects to see studies in the near future that attest to the power of glutathione to achieve this surprising reversal.
A CLOSER LOOK
To appreciate how glutathione works, Dr. Grossman said it’s important to understand in a bit more depth how cataracts develop. The lenses in your eyes are made up of proteins arranged in a very orderly way so that light passes easily through them. But as we age—especially if we lapse into poor diets, smoking or too much alcohol or develop diabetes or other chronic diseases—oxygen interacts with these proteins, creating highly reactive free radicals that cause the proteins to clump together. As they do, it becomes more difficult for light to pass through the lenses, and the result is cataracts and vision that’s increasingly blurry.
Here’s where antioxidants come into play. These substances can protect cells against the effects of free radicals. Vitamins A, C and E are antioxidants that we all know about. Those that are somewhat less well known include beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene and selenium. All of these help to slow the development of cataracts, but when it comes to the eye lens, the most powerful antioxidant is glutathione.
If glutathione—which is made up of three amino acids (cysteine, glycine, glutamic acid)—were easy for the body to absorb, preventing cataracts would be a simple matter of taking regular supplements. Unfortunately, we have the opposite scenario—glutathione is far more difficult to absorb than the more familiar antioxidants.
The solution is twofold, Dr. Grossman said. First, eat foods that boost your body’s ability to create glutathione, primarily in your liver. The list includes asparagus, eggs, broccoli, avocados, garlic, onions, cantaloupe, watermelon, spinach and strawberries. However, it’s doubtful, Dr. Grossman said, that diet alone can raise glutathione to sufficient levels for preventing the formation of cataracts. He also suggests that you eliminate, or at least reduce, the amount of refined sugar in your diet—including milk sugar, which is found in dairy products—and take supplements, not of glutathione itself but of substances known to encourage production of the body’s level of glutathione—N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), alpha lipoic acid and vitamin C. Alpha lipoic acid is particularly effective, Dr. Grossman said. You can buy it and NAC at some drugstores, many health-food outlets and online. One brand he particularly likes is DeTox Formula made by Vital Nutrients (800-383-6008, www.PureFormulas.com).
NAC and alpha lipoic acid are generally OK for everyone as long as the safe dosage is not exceeded—up to 300 mg for alpha lipoic acid and up to 600 mg for NAC. However, it’s best to talk to your doctor before taking either supplement, because they may lower thyroid hormone levels, adversely affect people with certain kidney conditions as well as strengthen the effects of certain medications—including ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure and immunosuppressive drugs.
Dr. Grossman made another important point about protecting your eyes. “Ultraviolet light encourages the proteins in the lens to clump together. So in addition to increasing levels of glutathione by eating the foods above and taking supplements, be sure to wear quality sunglasses that block UV light and a wide-brimmed hat whenever you’re out on a sunny day.”