A Moorfields Eye Hospital and University College of London (UCL) study has linked low to moderate alcohol consumption with a reduced risk of cataract surgery.
The collaborative study found wine consumption had the strongest protective effect, resulting in a 14 to 23% reduction in cataracts requiring surgery, compared with those who abstain from drinking alcohol, suggesting the antioxidants abundant in red wine may play a role in reducing cataract progression. Results, however, showed moderation was key, with people who drank daily or near-daily having about a 6% higher risk of cataract surgery compared with people who consumed alcohol moderately (6.5 standard glasses of wine per week).
"Cataract development may be due to gradual damage from oxidative stress during ageing," said lead author Dr Sharon Chua, research associate with UCL’s Institute of Ophthalmology. "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."
Tracking 490,000 UK volunteers through questionnaires while considering factors already known to affect cataracts – age, sex, ethnicity, social deprivation, weight, smoking and diabetes – the researchers also found alcohol-intake frequency, regardless of the type of alcoholic drink consumed, also played a role. Those who drank 1-2 times and 3-4 times per week had 7% and 6% lower risk of cataract surgery, respectively, compared to participants who drank 1-3 times or less per month. However, compared to those participants who consumed alcohol 1-2 times per week or 3-4 times per week, daily or near-daily drinkers had 6% and 5% higher risk of cataract surgery, respectively.
Compared with those who abstained from alcohol consumption, researchers found red wine drinkers had a 14% lower risk of cataract surgery while white wine/champagne drinkers had a 10% lower risk, which is consistent with prior findings about the health benefits of diets rich in antioxidants having a preventative effect on the onset of cataracts.
The authors noted their study does not establish causation, only a strong association between alcohol consumption and cataracts. While excessive alcohol consumption is linked to many serious and chronic conditions, the results will help researchers gain a better understanding of the causes of cataracts, as well as potential treatments, they said, calling for further studies to test their findings.
The full study was published in Ophthalmology.