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C is for cataracts — and saving your sight

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Millions of people know it’s important to beef up your vitamin C intake to strengthen your immune system. But there is another very important reason to get ample amounts of this essential vitamin — it can keep you from developing cataracts and going blind as you age.

In the United States alone, more than 20 million adults, aged 40 and older, are affected by cataracts. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology by age 75, about half of us will have cataracts. 1

Despite the advancements in cataract removal surgery, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness globally. That’s why researchers are hard at work looking for ways to slow the progression of this sight-stealer.

And guess what? Good nutrition has come to the rescue…

Sight-saving nutrient prevents cataracts

At King’s College London, scientists have been looking into how nutrients, environment and genetics affect cataract outcomes. Their most interesting study involved 1,000 pairs of mature female twins who were followed for 10 years.

At the beginning of the study, the twins provided information to track their intake of vitamin C and other nutrients, including vitamins A, B, D, E, copper, manganese and zinc — gained through the foods they ate, not supplements. At age 60, doctors measured the opacity of their lenses so they could measure progression of cataracts.

After 10 years, the researchers were able to follow up with 324 sets of the twins. They found that the women who reported a higher consumption of vitamin C-rich foods had a 33 percent risk reduction of cataract progression.

Not bad considering they were just getting their C through foods they ate. Consuming five varied servings of fruits and vegetables a day, like an orange or orange juice, red peppers, kiwi, broccoli or Brussels sprouts, can provide a moderate intake of about 200 mg of vitamin C. That’s just the right amount considering that your body excretes excess vitamin C through your urine. That’s why you don’t need to supplement — if you are sure to eat vitamin C-rich foods. But if you aren’t careful about your diet, you definitely should consider it.

How does vitamin C slow the progression of cataracts? Vitamin C’s exceptional antioxidant power is the likely hero here. The fluid inside your eye is normally high in vitamin C. This helps to prevent oxidation that clouds the lens — so more vitamin C in your diet may increase the amount found in the fluid surrounding the lenses in your eyes.

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