The lens of the eye, which is what allows us to focus, is filled with a clear protein containing liquid. If the proteins in the liquid start to denature, they become cloudy. This can cause vision to get blurred.
Cataracts can be small and present at birth, occur (rarely) after eye injuries, and most often occur as people age, being hastened sometimes by diabetes or high blood pressure. The radiation/ultraviolet light increase seen at high altitudes can also increase risk.
Cataracts are not dangerous, but can impair vision.
Optimizing antioxidant, zinc, and vitamin B2 intake (e.g., with a good multivitamin powder) and avoiding excess sugar can help protect the lens in your eyes by preventing the denaturing of the proteins in them.
Once the cataracts begin, I recommend the following (in addition to the above):
- Vitamin A (25,000-50,000 units a day). Use actual vitamin A and not beta carotene for this. This is a high dose, and should not be used in children, people with severe liver disease, or women who might get pregnant (it can cause birth defects) — folks who usually do not have cataracts anyway. One ophthalmologist jokingly complained that his cataract surgery income dropped by 2/3 when he started adding the vitamin A.
- N-acetyl carnosine eyedrops (available as a product called "Can-C"). Use twice daily.
- Bilberry (80 to 160 milligrams of a standardized 25% extract). Use 3 times daily.
- Chinese herbal mix Hachimijiogan (offered as "Clinical Nutrients for the Eyes," by Phytopharmica). Use 3 tablets daily.
If the cataracts are still problematic after 6-12 months of these therapies, surgery is very reasonable. Unlike most surgery, if the cataracts are bothering you to where you think that you eventually will need the surgery (after using the above therapies), I would do the surgery sooner rather than waiting. It is simple surgery and can markedly improve vision. So if you are going to do the surgery, why put up with poor vision while waiting?