June 15th, 2010
03:32 PM ET
By Matt Sloane
Getting older is inevitable, just like income taxes. But according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin, poor vision doesn't necessarily have to be a part of the aging process – at least not as early as you would expect – if you eat correctly.
The study followed more than 2,000 women, and found those who ate a diet high in colorful vegetables – dark leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers, squash and corn, among others – developed cataracts about two and half years later than women who ate diets high in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.
"We will all get cataracts if we live long enough," said Julie Mares, Ph.D., lead study author and professor of nutrition at the University of Wisconsin. "But if we can delay cataract production by 10 years, we can cut the number of surgeries needed in half."
According to Mares, these colorful vegetables contain a yellowish pigment called lutein, which helps absorb harmful light entering the eyes and can repair damage to proteins in the lens of the eye.
"When proteins are damaged, they go from being clear to being cloudy," said Mares, and its those cloudy proteins that responsible for the cloudy lenses seen in cataract patients.
Mares also points out that although these results were only seen in women, she fully expects that the benefits of healthy eating for eyesight would extend to men as well. A future study in male populations is planned.
Cataracts affect about 20 million Americans over the age of 40 and generally are characterized as a clouding of the permanent lens behind the pupil of the eye.
Dr. John Kim, director of opthalmology at Emory University says surgery can correct the problem.
"Surgeons make a small incision into the eye, and use ultrasound energy to break up the cataract into smaller piece," Kim says. "Then, the surgeon essentially vacuums the pieces out, and implants a plastic lens."
Kim says the surgery only takes about 8 to 15 minutes per eye, and a patients only need local anesthetic – something as simple as anesthetic eye drops – to numb the area.
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