It is a surprising fact even though cataracts are common throughout the world, they are also the leading cause of blindness in the world. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that cataracts are the cause of 51% of global blindness or some 20 million people, which is a staggering number of people.
Loss of vision is caused because the lens clouds over and prevents light from being reflected onto the retina at the back of the eye. Cataracts are associated with ageing but this problem can be exacerbated by, for example, diseases such as diabetes and some external factors can also contribute to the problem such as exposure to UV radiation.
Vitamin E and the eyes
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, which means it can protect against free radicals that damage cells in the body, and ageing skin and wrinkles are examples of the damage that free radicals can cause. Researchers are increasingly interested in vitamin E and eye health as one study suggested that vitamin E may protect against age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Considerable press interest was also generated at the start of this decade by research from the University of Florida on using vitamin E contact lenses to treat glaucoma. The research carried out involved the gradual release of medicine into the eye using special contact lenses where vitamin E molecules acted as a barrier to allow the slow release of medicine.
The study on vitamins and eye health was carried out by the National Eye Institute and the study’s official title was Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS). The results of the study found that high levels of antioxidants (vitamins, C, E, beta carotene) together with zinc significantly reduced the risk of age-related macular degeneration.
The results of the same study concerning the impacts of antioxidants on cataracts were less conclusive, although the Chairman of the AREDS study commented that with respect to cataracts, varying the dose of the nutrients and their impact over a longer period of time should also not be ruled out. Another study on cataracts has demonstrated a beneficial link between vitamin E supplements and the progression of lens opacification (Tufts University).
Intraocular contact lenses
It is still the case, however, despite the interest in vitamin E and its potential positive impact on cataracts that for many people surgery is required to treat the cataract. Intraocular contact lenses are special lenses that are used after surgery for cataracts. During the surgery, the natural lens in the eye that has become clouded over is removed and and a special lens, an intraocular lens, is inserted. This field has developed significantly as a result of new technology and nowadays multifocal intraocular lenses can be fitted so patients can see well at all ranges both near and far.