While many believe that vitamin C helps ward off colds, a new study suggests the nutrient might prevent something more serious -- cataracts.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision. Most cataracts are related to aging and are very common in older people. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery and in the UK more than 300000 procedures are carried out each year.
Researchers from King's College London, in the UK, have been investigating the role of nutrients in preventing the development of cataracts, as well as the relative impact of environmental factors - such as diet - compared with genetic influence.
A new study, conducted by Dr. Christopher Hammond, included more than 1,000 pairs of 60-year-old British female twins. The researchers found that those who took in high amounts of vitamin C in their diet had a one-third lower risk of cataract over 10 years. The study is the first to show that diet and lifestyle may play a more important role than genetics in cataract development and severity, according to the researchers.
Vitamin C's strength as an antioxidant may explain how it reduces the risk of cataract progression. The fluid inside the eye is normally high in vitamin C, which helps prevent oxidation that leads to clouding of the eye lens. A vitamin C-rich diet may boost the amount of the vitamin in the eye fluid, providing extra protection against cataract.
“The findings of this study could have significant impact, particularly for the ageing population globally by suggesting that simple dietary changes such as increased intake of fruit and vegetables as part of a healthier diet could help protect them from cataracts,” said Dr. Chris Hammond. Also, “while we cannot avoid getting older, diabetes and smoking are also risk factors for this type of cataract, and so a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle generally should reduce the risk of needing a cataract operation.”
Based on the findings, Hammond's team now believes that a person's genetics probably account for 35 percent of the risk of cataract progression, while diet and other environmental factors may account for the other 65 percent.
However, it's important to note that this study can only show associations; it cannot prove a cause-and-effect relationship between dietary vitamin C and cataracts.