A study from the UK has shown that people who drink up to 14 units of alcohol a week have a reduced risk of developing cataracts, with red wine having an even more pronounced effect.
Drinking less than 14 units of alcohol (or about six pints of beer, or six glasses of wine) is in line with the British Chief Medical Officer’s low risk drinking guidelines.
Cataracts are a major cause of impaired eyesight and blindness, mainly in older people. Cataract removal is simple, and is the most common surgery carried out by the UK’s National Health Service. The NHS considers drinking to be a risk factor for cataracts.
Researchers from Moorfields eye hospital in London and University College London’s institute of ophthalmology studied the medical and lifestyle history of nearly half a million participants in either the UK Biobank or Epic-Norfolk longitudinal health studies.
The results showed that people who drank within the 14 units a week guideline were less likely to have cataract surgery. Wine drinkers were even less likely to have it, compared to those who consumed beer or spirits. In the Epic-Norfolk study, drinking wine at least five times a week meant a 23% reduced chance of cataract removal than non-drinkers, while those in the UK Biobank study were 14% less likely.
“Cataract development may be due to gradual damage from oxidative stress during ageing. 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,” said first author Dr Sharon Chua.
Research leader Dr Anthony Khawaja added: “We observed a dose-response with our findings – in other words, there was evidence for reducing chance of requiring future cataract surgery with progressively higher alcohol intake, but only up to moderate levels within current guidelines.”
The authors emphasised that there was still not a causal link between alcohol consumption and reduced cataract surgeries despite the association.
Dr Sadie Boniface, research head at the Institute of Alcohol Studies thinktank, cast doubt on the findings. She said that longitudinal studies such as UK Biobank may not accurately represent health across the nation because many volunteers were often in good health.
“Comparing the health of moderate drinkers with that of non-drinkers also carries problems. Non-drinkers are a diverse group, including people who have stopped drinking because of health problems. This means moderate drinking can artificially look like it carries health benefits, because the moderate drinkers are compared to people on average in poor health,” said Dr Boniface.
“The bigger effect seen among wine drinkers may be because of other characteristics of this group to do with their cataract risk which weren’t accounted for. If the amount of alcohol or number of units somebody drinks was having a direct effect, you’d expect this to be similar regardless of drink type.”
Source: The Guardian