Photo courtesy of the Richmond County Cooperative Extension

The results of cataracts on vision.

In addition to ushering in the summer season, June is Cataract Awareness month.

Cataracts occur in the lens of the eye. The lens is located behind the iris, which is the colored part of the eye. The function of the lens is to focus light on the retina, which transmits images through the optic nerve to the brain. Normally, the lens of our eyes are clear, however when cataracts occur, the area of the lens becomes cloudy or opaque. Cataracts can negatively impact vision, depending on the location. When cataracts occur, usually both eyes are affected, but one may be more severe than the other.

Even though most cataracts are related to changes in the lens of the eye due to age, there are other factors that can contribute to the development of cataracts. According to the American Optometric Association, lifestyle plays a role in the causes and risk factors of cataracts. Studies have shown a possible link between smoking and increased lens cloudiness. Compared to people with little to no alcohol consumption, several studies reveal that people with higher alcohol consumption show increased cases of cataract development.

Diabetics do not have control of their glucose levels, and this may cause the lens to swell, making people with diabetes at higher risk for cataracts. Some medications can also lead to cataracts, such as corticosteroids, chlorpromazine and other phenothiazine related medications. Family history is also a factor in cataracts occurring. If a close relative has had cataracts there is a greater chance of cataracts developing for an individual.

The American Optometric Association notes that nutritional deficiency may be another factor associated with the formation of cataracts. Studies suggest that low levels of antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and carotenoids, may increase the occurrence of cataracts. When eaten in conjunction with other essential nutrients, these nutrients may prevent cataracts and slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration and loss of vision sharpness.

To incorporate more vitamin C into your diet consume more of these foods: oranges, papaya, green peppers, strawberries, bell peppers, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and mangoes. Vitamin E is essential to protect cells in the eyes from unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radicals break down healthy tissue. Vitamin E is found in safflower and corn oil, nuts, wheat germ, sweet potatoes, beet greens, collard greens, and spinach, to name a few.

Studies show carotenoids, which are pigments in plants, and contribute to the bright red, yellow, or orange color in foods we eat, such as sweet potatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, bell peppers, and carrots. Carotenoids act as an antioxidant for humans. They are also beneficial in lowering the risk of developing new cataracts. Some carotenoids can be converted into vitamin A when released into the body. Lutein and zeaxanthin are common carotenoids that are beneficial for eye health. The primary source of lutein and zeaxanthin are dark green leafy vegetables as well as colorful fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, peas, corn, persimmons, and tangerines. Zinc plays a vital role in transporting vitamin A from the liver to the retina. Poor vision and cloudy cataracts has been linked to zinc deficiency. Sources of zinc are oysters, red meat, shell fish, nuts and cheese.

As we recognize cataract awareness month, now is a great time to visit your optometrist, plan meals that incorporate foods that support eye health, and make lifestyle changes that promote vision care. For more information about the benefits of a healthy diet and incorporating physical activities into your daily routine contact Cheri Bennett at [email protected], Richmond County Family Consumer Science agent.

The Richmond County Cooperative Extension Office helps provide research-based education and technology to the producers and citizens of this great county. The office is located at 123 Caroline St. in Rockingham, and can be reached at 910-997-8255 or richmond.ces.ncsu.edu for more information.

Cheri Bennett is the Family and Consumer Sciences agent for the Richmond County Cooperative Extension.



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