Cataracts are a clouding of the eye's lens that happens naturally with age. The condition is the leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
Researchers from King's College London examined data from more than 1,000 pairs of female twins to see what factors may help keep cataracts at bay. They tracked the intake of vitamin C and other nutrients from food and supplements. They also recorded how opaque the subjects' lenses were at around age 60, with a follow-up on 324 sets of twins about ten years later.
Women who reported consuming more vitamin C-rich foods had a 33 percent risk reduction of cataract progression over the decade, according to the study. Their lenses were also more transparent overall.
"While we cannot totally avoid developing cataracts, we may be able to delay their onset and keep them from worsening significantly by eating a diet rich in vitamin C," said study author Christopher Hammond, M.D., professor of ophthalmology at King's College London. The researchers noted that the findings only pertain to vitamins consumed through food and not supplements.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. The fluid inside the eyeball usually is high in a compound similar to vitamin C, which helps prevent oxidation that results in a clouded lens. Scientists believe more vitamin C in the diet may increase the amount present around the lens, providing extra protection.
Because the study was done in twins, the team was also able to calculate how much of a role genetics versus environmental factors play in cataract progression. While environmental factors, such as diet, accounted for 65 percent, genetic factors only accounted for 35, indicating that diet and lifestyle may outweigh genetics.
The human body cannot produce or store vitamin C. Therefore, it's essential to consume Vitamin C rich food regularly in sufficient amounts. The current daily value (DV) for vitamin C is 90 mg. A diet rich in vitamin C is an essential step toward good overall health and cataract prevention.
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The study, "Genetic and Dietary Factors Influencing the Progression of Nuclear Cataract," was published in Ophthalmology, the official journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.