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Drinking Wine in Moderation May Help Prevent Cataracts

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Drinking Wine in Moderation May Help Prevent Cataracts

Moderate consumption of wine — less than one glass per day, but more than a couple of glasses per week — is linked to a lower risk of developing cataracts that require surgery, according to new research published in the journal Ophthalmology.

A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens, which is normally clear. As noted in a press release on the study from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, cataracts tend to develop slowly and usually don’t affect a person’s vision in their earlier stages. But over time, they can make it more difficult to read, drive a car or recognize faces. The only currently effective treatment for cataracts is surgery, in which a doctor removes the clouded lens of your eye and replaces it with an artificial lens.

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For the current study, researchers were interested in evaluating the effects of different types and amounts of alcohol consumption on developing cataracts severe enough to require surgery. Previous studies have been inconsistent in their findings, with some showing that heavy drinking increases the risk for severe cataracts, while others have found that moderate drinking has a protective effect, and still others have found no connection between alcohol intake and cataracts. The current study is the largest of its kind to date, tracking 492,549 people with an average age of about 56. Participants were excluded from the analysis if they reported already having cataracts, or if they required cataract surgery within a year of their initial assessment (since in that case, they almost certainly would have already had cataracts). Two groups of participants were followed for different amounts of time: one group for an average of 95 months (7 years, 11 months) and the other for an average of 193 months (16 years, 1 month).

Moderate wine consumption tied to reduced cataract risk

The researchers found that compared with participants who didn’t drink alcohol, those who consumed alcohol — any type, in any amount — were less likely to require cataract surgery. Among participants followed for an average of 95 months, those who drank alcohol were 11% less likely to have cataract surgery, and among participants followed for an average of 193 months, those who drank alcohol were 10% less likely to have the surgery, after adjusting for other differences between drinkers and nondrinkers. But when the type and amount of alcoholic beverages were taken into consideration, an even stronger protective effect emerged from moderate wine consumption. Among participants followed for 95 months, those who drank wine moderately — an average of about 6.5 glasses per week — were 14% less likely to have cataract surgery, and among participants followed for 193 months, those who drank wine moderately were 23% less likely to have the surgery.

The researchers cautioned that these results don’t prove that drinking wine caused the lower risk of cataract surgery, just that there was a link between the two. But it’s certainly possible that drinking wine was the cause of this lower risk, potentially because of the beneficial antioxidant properties of compounds found in wine (especially red wine), which can help reduce some harmful processes in the body.

“Cataract development may be due to gradual damage from oxidative stress during aging,” explained study author Sharon Chua, MD, in the press release. “The fact that our findings were particularly evident in wine drinkers may suggest a protective role of polyphenol antioxidants, which are especially abundant in red wine.” But more studies are needed, the researchers cautioned, before any potential benefits of wine drinking can be accounted for in official recommendations regarding cataract prevention.

Want to learn more about maintaining your vision? Read “Eating for Better Vision and Healthy Eyes” and “Diabetic Eye Exams: What to Know.”

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Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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