Pippa Wysong

May 05, 2005

May 5, 2005 (Fort Lauderdale) — There is more good news for red wine lovers. When consumed in moderation, red wine may reduce the risk of developing cataracts.

The news comes out of the Reykjavik Eye Study, a five-year population study started in 1996 that initially included 1,379 people. A substudy looking at the effects of alcohol consumption and its association to cataract development was presented in a poster at the annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.

"The study is part of a bigger study on age-related eye disease in Iceland. It's mostly concerned with cataract, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration," said Fridbert Jonasson, MD, professor of ophthalmology from the University of Iceland.

At both baseline and follow-up in 2001, subjects underwent lens imaging using Scheimpflug photography to determine whether there was any lens opacification. At baseline, people in the study were older than 55 years, underwent eye examinations, and completed questionnaires that asked about health, diet, medications, and more.

"The follow-up study included 832 people and was designed to look at whether there was an association between cataract development and alcohol use. Medication use, other medical conditions, or other factors associated with cataract development were adjusted for," Dr. Jonasson said.

Study results showed that nondrinkers and heavy drinkers of any sort of alcohol had a substantially increased risk for cataract development, while moderate red wine drinkers had only half the risk.

Heavy drinkers were defined as those consuming 24 g or more of ethanol per day for men, and 12 g or more of ethanol per day for women.

For red wine drinkers, moderate drinking was loosely defined as being anywhere from two glasses per month to two or three glasses per day. Nondrinkers consumed either less than a drink per month or not at all.

There were a total of 519 nondrinkers, 295 moderate drinkers, and 18 heavy drinkers in the study. Five-year incidence of cataract was 22% in drinkers and 32.2% in nondrinkers. Based on alcohol consumption, cataracts occurred in 23% of beer drinkers, 19% of spirit drinkers, and 13% of wine drinkers.

While moderate red wine drinking had the largest protective effect, drinking moderate amounts of spirits, such as whiskey or brandy, also had a protective effect but not as strong. Beer drinkers, however, had an increased risk of developing cataracts. "The researchers took into account the fact some people drink more than one type of alcohol. However, generally, people seemed to stick to one type of alcoholic beverage," Dr. Jonasson said.

As for the type of cataract, moderate wine drinkers had a 50% reduced incidence of cortical cataract and just less than half the risk for nuclear cataract.

White wine was not included in the analysis. "These were mostly red wine drinkers because white wine is not widely consumed in Iceland. We don't know if white wine does the same," Dr. Jonasson said.

In other parts of the study, researchers found that smoking, not wearing sunglasses, and steroid use are all strong risk factors for cataracts.

"This was just one aspect of our study," Dr. Jonasson said.

This study received no commercial support.

ARVO 2005 Annual Meeting: Abstract B198. Presented May 4, 2005.

Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

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