Vegan Health ArticlesA Feast for the Eyes - Prevention of Cataracts and Macular Degeneration
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We received a copy of this article from our optometrist in the spring of 1998.  The original source of the article is unknown.

Eyesight is the most precious of the senses. and as we grow older its preservation is always a matter of concern. Two common disorders of vision in older people are cataracts and macular degeneration. When the lens of the eye grows opaque (in some cases because of lifetime exposure to sunlight). the condition is called a cataract. Sight can be restored by replacing the lens with a plastic one-a form of surgery that is now relatively simple and almost always successful.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMC) is not so easily managed. The macula is in the center of the retina, in the back of the eye; if its cells break down, blurry vision results. As the disease progresses. severe vision loss occurs. Indeed, AMC is the leading cause of blindness in people over 65. No one understands why the disease occurs, and little can be done to alleviate it.

Spinach, collards, eyesight

But recent research has produced very encouraging news: a high consumption of certain vitamins and minerals-as well as beta carotene and related compounds that occur in leafy greens, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and other vegetables-may reduce the risk not only of cataracts. but of macular degeneration as well. Antioxidants (vitamins C and E plus beta carotene and other carotenoids) seem to be the most powerful. There's some evidence that minerals such as zinc may also be involved. One recent survey showed that people who ate the most beta carotene and other carotenoids~ particularly as supplied by spinach and collard greens, had almost half the risk of macular degeneration, compared to those eating less carotenoids. This may be due to the action of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that seem to form a pigment that protects the macula from destructive forms of light. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed a similar reduction in eye-disease risk for those with a high fruit and vegetable intake.

Concerning cataracts, though, the studies have been less clear. Some researchers have found that taking multivitamins reduces cataract risk. A high intake of antioxidants seems to ward off cataracts in some studies, but not in others. One study of 50,000 nurses found no protection from a high dietary intake of vitamins C and E, but a 30% risk reduction with a high intake of beta carotene, and a 40% reduction with a high intake of vitamin A (which the body also makes from beta carotene). But if the women had taken vitamin C supplements for more than 10 years, their risk was reduced by 45%.

Maybe a high intake of carotenoids and other antioxidants does prevent eye disease in some people. but some other element in the foods they eat. or some other health habit entirety . may also be responsible. People who eat lots of fruits and vegetables tend to take good care of themselves in other ways, too. An important new study conducted by the National Eye Institute is under way, and should more accurately pinpoint the role of various minerals. vitamins, and carotenoids in eye disease. But it will be about five years before results are in.

One predictable consequence of all this is that store shelves are already being stocked with vitamin and mineral supplements for the eyes - Opti-Vue, See. Ocu-Care, OcuGuard. to name a few. Should you be taking any of these? There's no conclusive evidence that antioxidant supplements /with or with-out added minerals) are going to help. Nor is it known whether beginning to take supplements at age 60 or later can ward off eye disease if your diet has been poor until then. Still. some doctors think it is a good idea to take supplements if you have a family history of cataracts or macular degeneration, or if you are diabetic. You should discuss this question during your next eye checkup.

Good nutrition is associated with a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other ills, including eye disease. Rely on plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, carrots. sweet potatoes. pumpkin, fruits, and other nutrient-dense produce. They will supply the antioxidants you need, as well as other nutrients (additional carotenoids, for instance) that may be protective. However, we also recommend the following daily supplements of antioxidants: 250 to 500 milligrams of vitamin C: 200 to 800 IU of vitamin E; and 6 to 15 milligrams of beta carotene. These, in addition to a healthy diet rich in fruits, grains, and vegetables, can help keep you healthy. We don't think you need specially designed supplements for your eyes.

Remember, too, that lifetime exposure to sunlight can lead to cataracts and possibly macular degeneration. Wear sunglasses and, whenever possible, a hat with a brim.

When we read this article, the first thing we thought of was, how much better it could be if we were all vegans and also were careful about the things we eat.   A healthful, whole food (unprocessed) diet seems to have all-around benefits.

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We began this archive as a means of assisting our visitors in answering many of their health and diet questions, and in encouraging them to take a pro-active part in their own health. We believe the articles and information contained herein are true, but are not presenting them as advice. We, personally, have found that a whole food vegan diet has helped our own health, and simply wish to share with others the things we have found. Each of us must make our own decisions, for it's our own body. If you have a health problem, see your own physician.