New England Eye Center - Advanced Eye Care

The Impact of Nutrition on Cataracts

The impact of diet on overall health has been documented increasingly in recent years. At New England Eye Center/Tufts University School of Medicine, The Nutrition and Vision Research Laboratory has been studying the causes of age-related eye lens cataract and age-related maculopathy for 16 years. These research findings should help diminish risk for onset or progress of these debilities.

"While this research will help reduce impairment or loss of sight, it will also help reduce costs associated with treating ophthalmological conditions. Cataract treatment costs comprise the largest line item in the Medicare budget, some $5 billion annually. It is estimated that if cataract can be delayed by 10 years, we can eliminate the need for half of the cataract extractions," notes Allen Taylor, Ph.D., Senior Scientist and Director of the Laboratory for Nutrition and Vision Research, USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. Avoiding surgery would also enhance life quality for our elderly. Moreover, delaying the requirement for treatment is essential in many parts of the world where there is a dearth of ophthalmologists.

Several projects are currently underway at the Nutrition and Vision Research Laboratory. One study found that persons who consumed vitamin C supplements for over 10 years have 60 to 80% decreased risk ratio for cataract.

Other studies are currently reviewing diet-eye tissue relationships to determine the minimum intake of various antioxidants (i.e., Vitamin C and Vitamin E) which may provide the most useful levels of these nutrients to diminish the risk for cataract.

"Recently, we published a study which documented the first success in delaying later life cataract in laboratory animals which were developed for this study. This was done by restricting calorie intake. Also associated with reduced calorie (but nutritionally complete) diet was diminished risk for cancer and many other age-related phenomena," adds Dr. Taylor. "We are trying to understand the etiology of these diseases and the mechanism by which diet alters the risk for developing them. Such understanding would enable us to achieve extended health without the undesirable requirement of severely restricting calorie intake."