A new study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital shows that long-term use of a daily multivitamin supplement may lower the risk of cataracts in men.
The research focused on two different eye ailments: cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Cataracts are the clouding of the eye’s lens which results in blurred vision. Age-related macular degeneration is the deterioration of the macula which is responsible for the sharpness of the images we see.
According to Eye Care America, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness for people over the age of 55. They also say that over half of the people over age 65 have some degree of cataract development.
Researchers conducted a randomized, double-blind study from 1997 to 2011. In the study, they had 14,641 U.S. male doctors who were age 50 or older take either a multivitamin or a placebo. The daily multivitamin contained vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene as well as other nutrients. The researchers followed the participants to see how many in the group developed cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. The daily multivitamins were within the recommended U.S. daily allowance.
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The researchers found that 872 participants who were given the daily multivitamin developed cataracts and 945 of the participants who were given the placebo developed cataracts. That is a nine percent decrease in risk. The researchers also found that the risk was even lower for nuclear cataract which occurs at the center of the lens. The risk was 13 percent lower. Nuclear cataracts are the most common variety of cataracts associated with aging.
The researchers also found that 152 participants who were given the multivitamin developed age-related macular degeneration, compared to 129 developing it who were given the placebo. This is a slight increase. The researchers stated that although it is statistically non-significant, more research would have to be done in this area since these numbers do cause some concern.
The research team was lead by Dr. William Christen of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Christen said the research does show an association between the use of nutritional supplements and eye health. He feels more research is necessary, “Clearly, this finding needs to be examined further in other trials of multivitamin supplements in both men and women.”
The results were published recently in Ophthalmology, which is the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The researchers do note that there is still more information needed and this one study produced a limited amount of information on the link between the long-term use of a daily multivitamin supplements and the reduced risk of cataracts.
Dr. Christen said, “If multivitamins really do reduce the risk of cataract, even by a modest 10 percent, this rather small reduction would nonetheless have a large public health impact.” It is currently estimated that 10 million U.S. adults have impaired vision due to cataracts. By reducing the risk by 10 percent, the cost for public health could be greatly reduced. At the current time, the Academy does not have a recommendation for the use of nutritional supplements to prevent cataracts of delay their progress.
Cataract Risk Factors
There are different risk factors that make you more likely to develop cataracts. People who smoke, have diabetes, have a lot of direct sunlight exposure to their eyes, and over the age of 55 are all at greater risk of developing cataracts. Age is not a risk factor you can change, but the other three risk factors can all be reduced by choices you make.
If you are a smoker, try quitting. Smoking is not only a risk factor for cataracts, but many other health problems. Exposure to direct sunlight is another risk factor that can be controlled. Make sure you wear eye protection when in the sunlight. Sunglasses should be rated for UVA/UVB protection. Another option to protect yourself from sunlight is to wear a wide brimmed hat.
Diabetes is a risk factor that can also be controlled by some suffers. By making good food choices, diabetes can often be controlled in most people.
A growing trend in eye health is to add the essential vitamins, minerals and herbs to your diet which promote eye health. If you struggle with a healthy diet, another option is to add a dietary supplement, similar to the type of vitamin the doctors in the study took. But it is always best to try to get the vitamins from fresh foods whenever possible.
Hopefully, with the promising results of this study, more research will be conducted to find the correct dosage of each vitamin to optimize the usefulness of vitamins in reducing the risk of cataracts and other eye ailments and to measure the usefulness of these vitamins in women too.