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Cataracts are typically managed with monitoring through regular eye exams and, eventually, surgery to remove the damaged lens of the eye. (Learn More) Many people seek alternative treatments to manage or prevent cataracts, so they can avoid surgery.
One of the more common alternative recommendations is CBD (cannabidiol), but there is no medical evidence to suggest this treatment works. (Learn More) Another common recommendation is lutein, usually taken in a supplement with zeaxanthin. This has shown potential success in some studies but little statistical effect in others. (Learn More)
Because cataract surgery is invasive, and it takes several weeks to fully heal, doctors are investigating other options. There are some promising potential eye drop treatments that have performed well in animal studies. (Learn More)
There are currently no nonsurgical treatments to remove cataracts. It is important to get regular eye exams, manage any underlying medical conditions, wear sunglasses that protect against ultraviolet light, and stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible. Your doctor will monitor the progress of your cataracts and inform you if surgery becomes necessary. (Learn More)
Cataracts: A Progressive Eye Condition With Few Treatments
Most people do not know they have cataracts when the lens changes first begin to develop. Cataracts are not painful, and they do not drastically impact vision until the disease has advanced for several years. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist should be able to diagnose cataracts during a routine eye exam.
There is no cure for cataracts. They have to be removed via surgery when they progress to that point. You can potentially slow their progression and manage vision loss.
Unfortunately, there are no proven alternative treatments to manage cataracts. The best process is to get regular eye exams as recommended by your eye doctor, so they can keep up with your cataract progression.
Can CBD Help With Cataracts?
Proponents of medical marijuana suggest that CBD (cannabidiol), which is a chemical compound derived from marijuana, can help with glaucoma. This concept has spilled over into suggesting that CBD-containing products might help cataracts as well.
There is no evidence that CBD products slow the progression of cataracts. However, there is no scientific evidence that CBD makes cataracts worse either.
CBD appears to have no effect on this eye condition, so if you take CBD to treat another condition and are diagnosed with cataracts, you are not making your cataracts worse. In contrast, there is some evidence that CBD for glaucoma will make the condition worse rather than better.
If you are interested in CBD treatment for your eyes, it is important to speak with your eye doctor first. A medical dispensary, even one that is licensed in your state, does not provide adequate vision or medical care.
While CBD does show promising results in scientific studies for helping chronic pain, nausea and appetite loss due to cancer treatment, epilepsy, and tissue inflammation, CBD does not appear to have vision-specific benefits.
Does Lutein Help Cataracts?
Some people add dietary supplements, vitamins, minerals, and herbs to their diet to keep their vision healthy for as long as possible. Lutein is one of the supplements often recommended for stronger vision, but this is sometimes conflated with being able to prevent cataracts or slow down their progression.
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) is one of the largest medical studies surveying progressive eye diseases in the United States. The study enrolled 4,203 participants between 50 and 85 years old, cataloguing various interventions for maintaining eye health alongside control groups.
Participants being surveyed for cataracts received either a placebo, lutein/zeaxanthin in either 10 or 20 mg, omega-3 supplements at 1 g, or a combination of the interventions. During the course of the study, participants were surveyed every six months regarding whether they needed cataract surgery. Daily lutein supplements were not found to have a protective effect against developing cataracts or needing cataract surgery.
In contrast, other surveys have found some benefit to taking lutein supplements to slow down the progression of cataracts. For example, the Nurses’ Health Study found that people taking high amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin in combination (about 6 mg per day) had a reduced need for cataract surgery. The Health Professional’s Follow-Up Study found that consuming 6 or 7 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin in various foods reduced the need for cataract surgery.
These studies suggest that taking this supplement at higher doses may slow down the progression of cataracts once they form.
Other studies suggest that cataracts can be prevented by lutein supplements. The Beaver Dam Eye Study showed that people with the highest intake of lutein and zeaxanthin had a lower risk of developing cataracts. A survey in England reported that people with higher amounts of lutein in their blood were at the lowest risk of a specific type of cataract, the posterior subcapsular cataract.
Lutein and zeaxanthin may have other health benefits too, but the average American only consumes about 1.7 mg of these carotenoids per day. Find foods or a supplement to boost your levels if you are concerned about developing cataracts.
Are There Other Nonsurgical Cataract Treatments?
Since surgery is often invasive, and people who need cataract surgery are usually older than 65, medical research has turned toward finding alternative treatments to manage cataracts or even prevent them. Some newer research has found the following:
- The compound lanosterol reportedly reversed cataract opacity in animal models and in vitro.
- An extension of the lanosterol study found that 25-hydroxycholesterol and rosmarinic acid had similar properties.
- A study on mice examined compounds in the sterol family and found some that slowed cataract growth. These could be applied as noninvasive eye drops.
- An experimental eye drop treatment containing acetylcarnosine, an amino acid, might help to break up cataracts.
Another great way to manage or even reverse cataracts is to get appropriate treatment for underlying conditions that might cause them. For example, diabetes can cause cataracts, but if you can manage your blood sugar with diet, exercise, and prescription treatment as recommended by your doctor, you may be able to reverse cataracts and regain your eyesight.
The Current Recommended Cataract Treatments
Most cataracts start forming between 40 and 60 years old. They rarely require surgery until you are well into your 70s or 80s. It’s rare that cataracts will develop faster than that or in people who are younger.
For people who are older, healing after cataract surgery can take longer, and undergoing surgery may be riskier. Finding treatments in the future to manage cataracts without surgery will benefit older adults.
Meanwhile, you can reduce your risk of cataracts by:
- Quitting smoking.
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
- Wearing sunglasses outside that block ultraviolet light.
- Avoiding prolonged exposure to sunlight.
If you do develop cataracts, your eye doctor will monitor your condition and let you know if they believe surgery is required. It is likely that this will take several years, and you may benefit from a stronger glasses prescription in the meantime.
At some point, your cataracts may obscure part of your vision, so you cannot safely drive or operate heavy machinery. It’s important to keep up with your routine eye exams to stay on top of their progression.
What Are Cataracts? (October 2020). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
Does Marijuana Help Cataracts? (April 2014). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
Does Marijuana Help Treat Glaucoma or Other Eye Conditions? (June 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
Patients Interested in Whether CBD Has a Role to Play in Eye Health. (April 2019). Eye World.
Lutein/Zeaxanthin for the Treatment of Age-Related Cataract. (July 2013). Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Ophthalmology.
Diet and Nutrition: The Case for Lutein and Zeaxanthin. American Optometric Association (AOA).
The Quest for Homeopathic and Nonsurgical Cataract Treatment. (January 2020). Current Opinion in Ophthalmology.
Could Eye Drops Be an Alternative Treatment to Cataract Surgery? (December 2015). American Optometric Association (AOA).
Alternatives to Cataract Surgery. (2020). HCF Insurance.