The Eyes Have It

Thanksgiving 2010 is history but the leftovers haunt me. I know, I know, everyone loves Thanksgiving leftovers but not me. Once everyone has had their fill of turkey, one of the uglier birds on earth and often raised in a most inhumane way, then what? Turkey soup, turkey sandwiches, turkey quiche, nope I am done with turkey. Once I have had a slice on my plate on THE day I want it gone, so my turkeys are getting smaller and smaller. I suspect the ubiquitous Thanksgiving turkey may very well magically turn in to chicken next year.

The holiday was filled with friends and family and I enjoyed it immensely (all but the bird) but the subject of cataracts came up in the course of conversation which I guess may happens as the human body ages. It seems my 60 year old friend was recently diagnosed with an early stage cataract. He managed to make the conversation humorous with his jokes about how he responds to a question that he doesn’t hear “Sorry I can’t hear; I have a cataract.” If chores don’t get done he has a good excuse now “Sorry I have a cataract; can’t do chores!” Humor is always good and it makes a heavy conversation much lighter and easy to take. But my question was would a supplement of some kind counter the growth of a cataract once it has started? And what supplement could I recommend for my friend? I enjoyed the conversation but I was already working on my next blog.

As always I can only research these things and see what comes up, so my quest began. I knew I had read recently that Astaxanthin is good for eye health. Research has shown that this is because Astaxanthin, a carotenoid with powerful antioxidant properties,  increases cellular energy by protecting mitochondria and Astaxanthin exhibits a strong  photoprotective effect. This property enables Astaxanthin to help with aging skin as well as protecting your eyes. Both your eyes and your skin suffer from photic damage, so taking supplemental Astaxanthin is advantageous for preventing damage. My question though, was can it  treat existing cataracts?

In reviewing several articles including articles by Joe Mercola and Mike Adams I conclude that no one can say for sure if it can counteract a cataract but it can help prevent damage to the eye thanks to its photoprotective properties. There is strong evidence that it decreases the incidence of macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness in the USA and the world and Joe Mercola says it is the “ultimate carotenoid for eye health and the prevention of blindness”. I already take 2000 mg of krill oil every day to reduce inflammation and krill oil has high levels of Astaxanthin but I am going to add one capsule of pure astaxanthin to my daily regimen as there are no known side effects from too much astaxanthin.

Vitamin C is a great antioxidant and taking 2000 mg a day is the generally accepted dosage when you have an autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s but does it help your eyes once you have cataracts? According to the Linus Pauling Institute “decreased vitamin C levels in the lens of the eye have been associated with increased severity of cataracts in humans”. However, in a controlled study 4,629 men and women were given a daily supplement containing  500 mg of vitamin C, 400 Vitamin E (personally I would like to know what kind of E was given) and 15 mg of beta-carotene and it had no more effect on the development and progression of age related cataracts than a placebo. Therefore, the Linus Pauling Institute declared, “the relationship between vitamin C intake and the development of cataracts requires further clarification before specific recommendations can be made.” So far I am, as they say, drawing blanks. I will still take my 2000 mg of vitamin C in my daily supplements but its use for cataract prevention seems dubious.

Almost all eye formulations have bilberry in them, so that was my next possible supplement for treating existing cataracts. As I started to research the bilberry it seemed that I had finally  found my bucket of gold. Bilberries (Vaccinium Myrtillus) have been shown to have some positive effects on existing cataracts.

The main components of bilberry are catechol tannins and proanthocyanidins, as well as anthocyanins, flavonoids, iridoids, glycosides (asperuloside and monotropein) and phenolic acids. This combination of components “reduce the levels of blood lipids and glucose and has antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-exudative and anti-ulcerous properties and improves the permeability of capillaries and wound healing, while inhibiting platelet aggregation” and seem to have a positive impact on your eyes.

It is not totally understood why bilberry is so good for ailments of the eye but in many studies it has proven to improve such things as cataracts. One such report was a controlled study of  50 people with senile cataracts. The study participants were given 180 mg of Bilberry extract (25% standardized extract) twice daily in conjunction with 100 mg vitamin E (dl tocopheryl acetate) twice daily. Taking bilberry extract with the vitamin E for four months stopped the progression of the cataracts in 96 % of the subjects as opposed to only 76% in the control group.

B vitamins also seem to help eliminate existing opacities. In one study participants were given 15 mg of Riboflavin daily and within 24-48 hours improvement was noticed. Nine months later the opacities disappeared but more study is necessary to prove these dramatic results. People with cataracts tend to have low levels of folic acid, so taking folic acid in the form of  folinic acid or 5-Methyl-tetrahydrofolate may be helpful. In cases of chemically induced cataracts in animals if pantethenic acid (B5) is given within 8 hours the cataract can be totally prevented.

In the end, if you want more bang for your buck it seems obvious that taking a 25% standardized extract of bilberry and a B-complex vitamin may be your very best preventive or curative action when it comes to cataracts.

Here’s to seeing you next week,



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