©2007 Charlie Cravero Bilberry has nutrients that protect capillary health.

As we age, the health of our eyes can decline in many ways. The following article describes the age-related disorder of cataracts and offers herbal remedies that can reduce symptoms and prevent degeneration.

About Cataracts

A cataract is a clouding or opacity of the lens of the eye, making it difficult to see through.

Often age-related, cataracts occur in most people who live long enough. That's because the eye undergoes a lifetime of bombardment by sunlight's ultraviolet rays, which create free radicals in the eye. These free radicals cause cell damage, leading to cataracts. Smokers and persons who have diabetes have an increased risk of developing cataracts, as do those who are exposed to excessive amounts of sunlight.

Herbal Remedies for Cataracts

Antioxidants are a natural defense against this condition. Smokers use antioxidants at a high rate because cigarette smoke creates an enormous number of free radicals. Many studies show that people who have lower levels of antioxidants in their bloodstream and in the lens of the eye have a higher incidence of cataracts.

People with diabetes, however, develop cataracts differently. They tend to have higher than normal levels of sugar in the bloodstream and eye. This puts extra pressure on the lens, making it inflexible and eventually damaging cells to the point of cataract formation.

To prevent development of cataracts because of free radical damage, eat garden produce that is rich in antioxidants. Bell and hot peppers, melons, cabbages, potatoes, berries, and citrus fruits are all rich in vitamin C; most items from the garden contain good amounts. Vitamin E is less common in plants. Sweet potatoes however, are unusual in that they contain quite a bit of vitamin E.

Beta-carotene and other carotenoids also battle free radicals. Beta-carotene is prevalent in sweet potatoes, too, as well as in winter squash, carrots, apricots, melons with orange-colored flesh, and dark, leafy greens. A carotenoid called lutein is a powerful antioxidant, and spinach is chock-full of it.

Flavonoids in berries and other purple- and red-colored fruits also put a stop to free radical damage. Quercetin, a flavonoid, helps people with diabetes by preventing sugars from accumulating in the eye. Cabbage family vegetables, especially broccoli, overflow with antioxidants such as lutein and quercetin.

The berries of the bilberry plant are rich in anthocyanidins, another potent flavonoid free-radical fighter. It protects not only the lens but also the back of the eye, the retina. To get hefty doses of this substance, the extract, capsules, or tablets are often used, sometimes as much as 240-480 mg per day. There are no known problems or side effects associated with taking bilberry in these amounts.

Bilberry contains antioxidant flavonoids, which help keep cataracts at bay, but it also carries substances in its leaves that may help lower and stabilize blood sugar in people with diabetes. Similarly, much of the garden produce that contains fiber, especially soluble fiber, will also help a person with diabetes control blood sugar levels. Good sources include apricots, apples, beets, berries, citrus fruits, parsnips, squash, and oats, to name just a few. Adequately controlling blood sugar may reduce complications of diabetes such as cataracts.

Eric Yarnell, N.D., R.H. (A.H.G.) is a naturopathic physician and registered herbalist in private practice specializing in men's health and urology.  He is an assistant professor in the botanical medicine department at Bastyr University in Seattle and is president or the Botanical Medicine Academy.  He is the author of several textbooks including Naturopathic Gastroenterology, Naturopathic Urology and Men's Health, and Clinical Botanical Medicine; He writes a regular column on herbal medicine for Alternative and Complementary Therapies. This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies.   Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.