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Although it is an overstatement to describe the curative powers of green tea as "miraculous," there is no doubt that green tea can have profound benefits. Not many people know it is also helpful in slowing down the progress of age -related eye disorders.

Aging, Antioxidants, and Green Tea for Eye Disorders

An ancient Chinese proverb says, "It is better to be deprived of food for three days than to be deprived of green tea for one." Although it is an overstatement to describe the curative powers of green tea as "miraculous," there is no doubt that green tea can have profound benefits in maintaining weight loss, in supporting recovery from cardiovascular disease, and even for managing conditions as diverse as allergies and endometriosis. Not many people realize, however, that green tea is also helpful in slowing down the progress of age-related eye disorders.

Eye disorders are a common complication of getting older. Most of the eye problems experienced in later life occur at the "equator" of the eye. There is a very simple reason that eye problems occur here.

The cells at the center of the eye have to grow faster because they have to cover more tissue. These cells are very susceptible to injury by antioxidant deficiencies and by exposure to the ultraviolet spectrum of sunlight. By the age of sixty, and sometimes sooner, free radical damage can accumulate so that proteins in the lens of the eye begin to coagulate. Over time, these proteins link together into a pattern that looks something like a star. These stars can merge to form a cataract that interferes with sight.

Take any and every antioxidant vitamin

The remedy for free radical damage is not necessarily to take any and every antioxidant vitamin. One of the seldom appreciated facts about care of aging eyes is that excessive consumption of vitamin D supplements actually makes cataracts grow faster. And while you cannot take so much vitamin C that you damage your eyes, taking antioxidant vitamin C without its co-factors won't help slow eye damage.

One of the co-factors of vitamin C is vitamin E. Vitamin C and E recharge each other and together recharge the antioxidant glutathione in the lens of the eye. If you just take vitamin E without taking vitamin C, you are afforded protection against the development of the kind of cataracts that make it difficult to drive at night (cortical cataracts) but not against the cataracts that cause nearsightedness (nuclear cataracts). Taking just these two vitamins together reduces your risk of getting any cataracts at all by about 70 per cent.

Changes in diet, however, offer even more protection. A study of nutrition and cataracts formation conduced in Europe found that people who eat the most broccoli, cabbage, green peppers, spinach, melon, and tomatoes were the least likely to have cataract surgery. The Health Professionals Follow-Up Study found similar results for American men who eat the most servings of broccoli and spinach per week (about 1 of each is enough). The Nurses' Health Study found that American women who consumed the most zeaxanthin and lutein, pigments found in yellow foods such as sweet corn and egg yolk, enjoyed a further 22 per cent reduction in the risk of cataract. Green tea, however, reduces the risk of cataracts even more.

The Benefits of Green Tea for Cataracts

The protective compound in green tea that prevents the progression of cataracts is known epigallocatechin gallate, also known as ECGC. This antioxidant prevents the energy-generating parts of the cell known as the mitochondria from "burning out and giving up" when the lens of the eye is exposed to ultraviolet light, industrial chemicals, and other sources of free radical damage.

ECGC keeps free radical damage to the eye from inducing a process know as apoptosis, or "cell suicide." Interestingly, at least under laboratory conditions, this green tea compound protects the eye better at lower concentrations than at higher concentrations. A very small amount of the compound delivered through the bloodstream to the eye is enough to prevent a series of steps initiated when the energy-making machinery of the cells of the eye is stressed. An enormous dose of the compound, more than you can actually get by taking green tea supplements and far more than you can get by drinking green tea, has no effect at all.

Why It's a Good Idea to Use Green Tea As Part of a Program to Prevent Eye Disorders

If you live on cheeseburgers, Hostess Twinkies, and Starbucks coffee drinks, drinking green tea or taking green tea supplements really is not going to do a lot for preventing eye disorders. Green tea is good for stopping one important source of destruction of eye tissue, cell suicide in the lens after years of exposure to sunlight have damaged the energy-making centers of the cell. The ECGC in green tea, however, does not stop cell damage coming from outside the cells of the eye, such as can be caused by prolonged use of any of the following prescription medications:

  • Chemotherapy with Adriamycin (doxyrubicin)
  • Antidepressant medications such as: Elavil (amitriptyline) or Tofranil (imipramine)
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs such as:  Lipitor (atorvastatin), LoCholest or Questran (sold under the generic names cholestyramine or colestipol), Mevacor (lovastatin), Pravachol (pravastatin), Zocor (simvastatin),  etoclopramide (Mexalon or Reglan) taken for vomiting or nausea, or Oral contraceptives in any dosage

All of these medications increase risk of damage to the lens of the eye that can lead to cataracts. Green tea does not guarantee you will not ever develop cataracts, but the long-term clinical evidence and also laboratory studies suggest that it should help.

How to Take Green Tea as Part of Program to Prevent Eye Disorders

Generally speaking, you just can't drink enough green tea to get the levels of ECGC you need to have an effect on long-term eye health. Some studies estimate that benefits begin at about 40 cups a day—which is enough to interfere with other aspects of nutrition.

By far the easiest way to get the benefits of green tea for any aspect of your health is simply to take a supplement standardized for ECGC. As little as 300 mg a day may be of benefit, but about 3,000 mg a day has efficacy in preventing and supporting recovery from many health conditions.

  • S K Gupta, V Kalai Selvan, S S Agrawal, and Rohit Saxena. Advances in pharmacological strategies for the prevention of cataract development. Indian J Ophthalmol. 2009 May–Jun. 57(3): 175–183. doi: 10.4103/0301-4738.49390.
  • Ke Yao, PanPan Ye, Li Zhang, Jian Tan, XiaJing Tang, and YiDong Zhang. Epigallocatechin gallate protects against oxidative stress-induced mitochondria-dependent apoptosis in human lens epithelial cells. Mol Vis. 2008. 14: 217–223. Published online 2008 January 31.