If you are diagnosed with cataracts, you may worry you will go blind or experience serious limitations to your life, including not being able to beautiful scenery, read books, or drive. (Learn More) While these may eventually happen, cataracts progress very slowly, especially in the United States. The majority of cataracts are related to aging eyes and do not begin to appear until age 40 or later. Medical treatments for cataracts are well understood, including monitoring, recommended lifestyle changes, and ultimately, surgery to remove the diseased lens. (Learn More)
Too many unscientific websites and programs recommend “natural” remedies to stop, reverse, or cure cataracts. These claims are blatantly false, and the most credible ones boil down to lifestyle changes to slow the progression of cataracts, not reverse or cure them. This article can help you understand why herbal supplements, eye drops, and “wellness” websites are wrong. Cataracts are not curable, but they are very treatable with appropriate medical oversight. (Learn More)
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What Are Cataracts, and Can They Be Cured?
A cataract is a condition occurring in the lens of the eye when proteins break down — usually due to age, physical trauma, or illness — and clump together. As these clumps grow and change, vision will become blurry; you may get double vision in one eye; your vision may turn yellow or become darker; or you may experience haziness like you are in fog. These protein clumps prevent light from passing through the eye as normal, so the images transmitted to the brain from the retina and optic nerve will be incomplete.
Cataracts will eventually lead to blindness. When you develop them in one eye, you will likely develop them in the other eye. In the United States, cataracts are most likely to start developing in people who are 40 or older; however, they often take years to become serious. Most people do not need surgery for their cataracts until they are in their 60s. By 80 years old, over half of American adults either have cataracts or have undergone surgery for cataracts.
Although cataract surgery is an outpatient procedure that restores most visual acuity, many people want to avoid surgical procedures if they can. This has led to a proliferation of natural remedies to prevent or cure cataracts. It is important to know that you must work with your optometrist or ophthalmologist on your cataract treatment.
This will primarily involve monitoring your vision changes and adjusting prescription glasses and contact lenses as necessary to improve your visual acuity for as long as possible, but it may also include some lifestyle changes, and will always require surgery eventually. There are no natural cures for cataracts, although medical researchers are looking at nonsurgical approaches. Here are some of the “natural” cures touted to work, but that you should avoid. Work with a medical professional instead.
Natural Cures for Cataracts Do Not Work, but You Can Slow Their Progress With Some Healthy Choices
One website states these lifestyle changes can “reverse” your cataracts, although the site appears to mean slow the progress of the cataract’s development. Eating a diet high in vitamins and minerals has been associated with slowed cataract progression, but other recommendations on the site have not been associated with cataracts. Some of these include:
- Stay hydrated. The site states that toxins can accumulate in a body that is dehydrated, increasing health issues. Drinking enough water detoxes the body and flushes the toxins out. While dehydration has been associated with changes in intraocular pressure (IOP) in some medical studies, it has not been linked to protein damage in the lens that may lead to cataracts.
- Reduce stress. There may be a connection between higher blood pressure from stress and higher IOP in the eyes, increasing the risk of some conditions like glaucoma or macular degeneration, but these conditions do not cause cataracts to develop. They can complicate cataract surgery, and all of these eye conditions are associated with age, but reducing stress does not directly impact one’s risk of cataracts.
However, regular exercise can reduce stress, which also reduces obesity and diabetes problems. This can impact whether cataracts develop or not. Hence, finding healthy ways to reduce stress can decrease the risk of problems that may lead to cataracts. On the other hand, exercising outside can also increase the risk of cataracts due to sun exposure.
Other recommendations may include herbal medicines like taking turmeric to reduce inflammation, or consuming bilberry (an herb rich in antioxidants) may reduce risk or prevent cataracts. While herbal supplements may work like vitamin supplements in some cases, the herbal supplement industry in the United States is largely unregulated, so labels on these products are misleading.
They may contain dangerous chemicals listed as plant material, or harmful additives or fillers may not be listed at all. Taking herbal supplements is especially risky if you are already taking prescription medications for other conditions that may contribute to cataracts, like diabetes. Consuming herbal supplements orally can be dangerous. You increase your risk of developing vision problems and eye diseases if you use unregulated eye drops that allege a “cure” for cataracts without surgery.
In many cases, “natural” methods to stop cataracts come down to making healthy lifestyle changes, which can improve your overall health, including slowing down cataracts. However, if you suffered eye trauma or are an older adult, you can manage your risk of developing cataracts, but you cannot stop the progression of this disease.
Eye Drops and Cataract Cures
Some scientific research has gone into examining nonsurgical methods, especially eye drops, for curing or stopping cataracts. While no such procedures have been fully studied or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or other government bodies that regulate medical procedures, one promising report found that a compound called sterol improved lens transparency. The chemical binds to misfolded proteins in the eyes of mice, partially reversing cataracts.
Lifestyle Changes Are Important and Can Slow the Progression of Cataracts
If you do want to slow down the progression of your cataracts or reduce your risk of developing cataracts, there are lifestyle changes you can make.
- Quit smoking.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.
- Avoid other substances of abuse.
- Ask your doctor about side effects of prescription medications so you can understand your risk of developing cataracts (such as with steroids).
- Follow your doctor’s orders about medications to treat chronic diseases like diabetes.
- Wear sunglasses that protect your eyes from ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
- Eat a healthy diet or take vitamin supplements. Nutritional deficiencies have been associated with a higher risk of cataracts.
- Get regular eye exams to monitor for cataract development among other conditions.
Factors you cannot control for include trauma to the eye, side effects after surgery, and aging.
Ultimately, Cataract Surgery Is the Only Cure
When you are diagnosed with cataracts, your doctor will not immediately send you to surgery unless your cataract is very advanced. Instead, you will be monitored in regular eye exams until your vision becomes too difficult to correct with glasses or contact lenses. Once that occurs, and your life is significantly impacted by your inability to see clearly, you will be a candidate for surgery.
Cataract surgery is an outpatient procedure that does not take very long. Although healing can take several weeks and getting restored vision can take several months, the procedure itself is low-impact. Your eye surgeon will make a small incision in your cornea, and then another small incision in the capsule containing the lens of your eye. Finally, they will break up the lens with a probe, either using lasers to soften the lens first or just using sound waves to break the lens up. The probe will remove the pieces of lens, and then your surgeon will replace the lens with an intraocular lens (IOL), an artificial lens made either of silicone or plastic. This lens will take the place of your damaged biological lens.
Like any other surgical procedure, there are side effects and risks associated with cataract operations. However, the risk of long-term side effects and chronic damage to your vision is very low, especially when you work with a highly rated eye surgeon using the latest technology.
A skilled ophthalmologist can help you understand what level of visual acuity you can expect to regain and monitor you for side effects like secondary cataracts or problems with the retina after your surgery. While the word “surgery” may conjure up frightening images, there’s no reason to fear a procedure as well understood as cataract surgery.
Facts About Cataract. (September 2015). National Eye Institute (NEI).
How to Reverse Cataract Without Surgery? (June 15, 2018). Healing the Eye and Wellness Center.
Intraocular Pressure Following 18 Hours of Systemic Dehydration in Ocular Normotensive Healthy Subjects. (2015). African Vision and Eye Health (AVEH).
Cataract Symptoms & Natural Treatments That Help. (August 20, 2016). Dr. Axe Food and Medicine.
The $37 Billion Supplement Industry Is Barely Regulated — and It's Allowing Dangerous Products to Slip Through the Cracks. (November 8, 2017). Business Insider.
Eye Drops Show Promise in Treating Cataracts Without Surgery. (November 6, 2015). Scientific American.
Cataracts: Overview. (June 24, 2018). Mayo Clinic.
Cataract Surgery. American Optometric Association (AOA).