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Preventing Cataracts with Diet

Risk of developing cataracts was compared in meateaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans.

May 21, 2012 |
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Acknowledgements

Images thanks to Rakesh Ahuja, MD and the U.S. Navy via Wikimedia Commons, and the National Eye Institute.

Transcript

The leading cause of blindness and vision loss is cataracts, and cataract removal is one of the most common surgeries today. We know smoking can increase risk, and long-term radiation exposure can increase risk, but what about diet? Earlier this year researchers published a study of 27,670 people with a wide range of diets in order to compare the risk of cataracts for "high," "moderate," and "low" meat eaters, fish-only eaters, vegetarians, and vegans.

The researchers went out of their way to choose health-conscious subjects, so they could factor out smoking, exercise, and other non-diet variables. How much meat did the "high" meat eating group consume? 100 grams a day. That’s like 1 serving in one meal a day. In the U.S. we average about 330 grams a day, so this is like reverse Starbucks labeling. You know how their small is a "tall"? Well, here the study's "high" is really quite low by American standards, yet they still found a highly significant trend. Who do you think had the lowest risk of cataracts?

Compared to the modestly "high" meat group, the "moderate" meat eating cuts risk down 4%, and the "low" meat eating 15%.  Eating only fish cuts your risk of cataracts down 21%. Eating only vegetarian food cuts it down 30% and eating completely vegan causes a full 40% drop in risk. Overall, compared with meat eaters who consumed 100 g meat and meat products, fish eaters, vegetarians, and vegans had approximately 20%, 30%, and 40% lower risk of cataracts, respectively.

It’s like with the diabetes; there appears to be a stepwise reduction as we eat fewer and fewer animal products.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

The concentration of advanced glycation end-products in animal-based foods may help explain this finding; see my video Glycotoxins. In Prevent Glaucoma and See 27 Miles Farther I covered the second leading cause of blindness, glaucoma, and the day before that I covered two other leading causes of vision loss in Preventing Macular Degeneration with Diet, where I also touch on diabetic retinopathy. I have 105 other videos on plant-based diets and hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects—I hope you'll check them out

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: Preserving Vision Through DietPlant-Based Diets for Metabolic Syndrome, and  Plant-Based Diets for Fibromyalgia

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    The concentration of advanced glycation end-products in animal-based foods may help explain this finding; see my video Glycotoxins. In Prevent Glaucoma and See 27 Miles Farther I covered the second leading cause of blindness, glaucoma, and the day before that I covered two other leading causes of vision loss in Preventing Macular Degeneration with Diet, where I also touch on diabetic retinopathy. I have 105 other videos on plant-based diets and hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects—I hope you’ll check them out.

    • HemoDynamic

      I would love to see the study that shows a plant based diet reversing cataracts.  Pubmed doesn’t show any.  Just hope for the future I guess.

      Also, Dr. Greger, just curious as to how many site hits this website gets per day?  Because like I said before I send at least 5 patients per day to your site so you have got to be at least at 500/day, right?  That is assuming that half I send don’t visit the site (or don’t care, and/or Love their Grilled Carcasses to much =):-}

      • Michael Greger M.D.

        We get a few thousand unique visitors a day–thanks to folks like you that are spreading the word!

      • Grandpa Wally

        See my experience with Castor Oil reversing cataracts on my blog @ http://www.grandpawallysnaturalremedies.com.
        My vision was restored to 20/20 and all traces of cataracts dissolved in just three and a half weeks.

    • Rhinokitty

      Any chance you could make this all simpler and come out with a vegan multivitamin based on your research?

    • Grandpa Wally

      After following the Budwig Protocol (3 tblspns flaxseed oil blended with 6 tblspns organic low fat cottage cheese, with 1 tblspn freshly ground flaxseeds and fruit every morning) for about two years, my ophthamalogist took me off my glaucoma eye drop prescription saying “things look well stabilized, so let’s try without the medicine.” I had been taking prescriptive eye drops for glaucoma for more than 20 years, but now I don’t need medicine any longer. I take flaxseed oil, cottage cheese, and ground flaxseeds every day.

  • Mike Quinoa

    Just finished a biography about Nathan Pritikin (with mention in the book of course of one Frances Greger) called “Nathan Pritikin: The Man Who Healed America’s Heart.” I found it to be a fascinating and inspiring read with mention of all kinds of interesting studies. Unfortunately, there were no references for these studies in the back of the book. One study mentioned was the auditory acuity maintained by the Mabaan tribe in Sudan. Even the older tribespeople enjoy hearing superior to most younger Americans. Not being subjected to the noises of modern technology is probably beneficial for the Mabaan, but apparently atherosclerosis of the organs of hearing is a strong determinant of presbycusis in western societies.  Since the book didn’t mention the diet of the Mabaan, I did a little research. I believe this is the study: Ann. Otol. Rhin & Laryng. 71:727, 1962. To quote from the study: “The results clearly indicate that presbycusis is not inevitable. However, the Mabaan population differs from ours in may ways besides the noise environment: they eat little animal protein, there is no obesity and little dental caries, and average blood pressure does not increase with age.”

  • Chiqlet

    If you are already developing cataracts not yet in need pf surgery – can you slow or reverse by adopting healthy vegan diet?

  • Slider

    Three years ago I was diagnosed with cataracts (beginning stage…yellow tinted fluid in eyes). A second eye doctor confirmed the diagnoses. Both said I would be sightless in two years. Today my vision is still 20/15 corrected with contact lenses since age sixteen. How can the two doctors be so wrong?

    A year prior to the diagnosis I started taking a 5% Lugol’s Iodine Solution supplement. Could the iodine possibly have tinted my eye fluid like it does microscope slides?

    • http://www.DonForresterMD.com/ Don Forrester MD

      Cataracts are opacities in the lens not the fluid in the eye. I’m glad to hear that your physicians were wrong. It is clear that cataracts are less prevalent in groups eating a more plant based diet as pointed out in the article cited in this video. Once they have formed reversing the condition has not been shown. Fortunately surgical treatment of cataracts is one of the most successful and rewarding(for patients) who need the procedure. If you want to protect your vision plant based diet is the way to go although some foods seem to be better than others.. see video on macular degeneration… http://nutritionfacts.org/video/preventing-macular-degeneration-with-diet/ and glaucoma… http://nutritionfacts.org/video/prevent-glaucoma-and-see-27-miles-farther/… and diabetic retinopathy… http://nutritionfacts.org/video/how-to-prevent-diabetes/. The science keeps building up to support a plant based diet with Vit B12 supplementation but you need to keep tuned to NutritionFacts.org as the science keeps coming… Good luck.

  • Slider

    One other unrelated comment, two internet posters both insist their eye color changed after switching to a vegan diet. Both claim they are healthy and have no eye problems.
    Is there any truth to the claim eyes can change color after switching to a plant based diet?

  • Chris Thomas

    I shouldn’t be getting cataracts but my opthamologist says I’ll get them.

  • Ben O’Loughlin

    Excellent!

  • Deitra Jones

    What was the length of time the vegans were vegan?

    It would be helpful to know this for all videos and reports even if it is an average or approximate.

  • Richard Frazee

    It would also be interesting to know if switching from a meat/fish diet to a vegetarian or vegan diet reverses the damage.

    • Mark R. Mach

      This is obviously anecdotal, but I had cataracts for over ten years though they were not prominent enough to be bothersome. I started on a WFPB diet over two years ago, and a couple o
      f months ago the cataracts in my right eye had become problematic enough to warrant surgery last week. So at least in my case, there was no reversal of my cataracts—and even continued progression of them.