Statins Reduce Risk of Cataracts

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Statins, the popular prescription drugs used to lower cholesterol levels and fight heart disease, also can reduce the risk of developing cataracts. Researchers found that statins can cut cataract risk in men by nearly 40 percent, and among women by about half that amount.

A cataract is like a cloud that floats in the eye, causing vision to be blurry. Cataracts can develop when some of the protein in the lens of the eye clumps together and makes it more difficult for light to pass through it. Over time, a cataract can grow larger and cloud more and more of the lens, making it increasingly difficult to see.

According to the National Eye Institute, cataracts are very common in older people, affecting more than 50 percent of people age 80 and older. Cataracts can develop in people in their 40s and 50s as well, but vision is often not noticeably affected until people reach their 60s or older. Along with blurry vision, symptoms of cataracts include seeing colors as faded, poor night vision, double vision, seeing a halo around lights, and a frequent need to change eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions.

Although this new study is not the first to note that use of statins has a preventive effect against cataracts, it is the first to demonstrate such a strong relationship in a very large population. In one previous study, the Blue Mountains Eye Study, investigators evaluated 3,654 elderly participants and found that statin use reduced the risk of cataract development by 50 percent.

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The Tel Aviv study included more than 180,000 patients seen between the years of 1998 and 2007 and consisted of a younger group of participants (men and women ages 45 to 74) than the Blue Mountains Eye Study. Dr. Gabriel Chodick of the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, and his colleagues found that men aged 45 to 54 who took statins every day to lower their cholesterol levels also reduced their risk of developing cataracts by 38 percent. The reduction was less dramatic in women of the same age, about 18 percent.

The ability of statins to reduce a person’s risk of dying from “all-cause mortality,” which means a combination of diseases and medical conditions, prompted investigators to explore any other benefits statins may provide. Dr. Chodick notes that people in their 40s to early 60s who begin taking statins “can reap a number of benefits, including better protection against cataracts.” More than 20 million Americans age 40 and older have cataracts.

Other ways to help prevent cataracts include getting regular eye examinations (at least once every two years after age 60), protecting the eyes by wearing sunglasses and a hat, not smoking, and consuming lots of antioxidants in your diet and with supplements.

Left untreated, cataracts can lead to blindness. Dr. Chodick and his team believe that regular use of statins by adults younger than 75 can significant reduce their risk of getting cataracts. They point out that it has not yet been determined whether statins should be used solely for the purpose of preventing cataracts by people who do not already have a reason to take the drug.

SOURCES:
National Eye Institute
Tan JS et al. Statin use and the long-term risk of incident cataracts: the Blue Mountains Eye Study. American Journal of Ophthalmology 2007 Apr; 143(4): 687-89
Tel Aviv University news release, Feb. 9, 2010

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