Carotenoids May Reduce Risk of Age-Related Cataracts

Source: VERIS Research Information Service

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BACKGROUND: The eyes are directly exposed to ultraviolet rays in sunlight, resulting in the creation of free radicals. Free radical damage accumulates with age, and it is believed to be a major cause of age-related cataracts. Previous studies have found that antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C, might reduce the risk of cataracts by quenching free radicals.

RESEARCH: Researchers studied 372 men and women, ranging in age from 66 to 75 years. Of these people, 245 had at least one of several common types of cataracts. The researchers measured blood levels of carotenoids and vitamins E and C.

RESULTS: In this study, the lowest risk of nuclear cataracts (located in the central part of the lens) was in people with the highest blood levels of either alpha-carotene or beta-carotene. Specifically, people with high levels of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene were 50 and 30 percent, respectively, less likely to develop nuclear cataracts. In addition, people with high lycopene levels were 60 percent less likely to develop cortical cataracts (in the outer layer of the lens). Finally, people with the highest lutein levels were 50 percent less likely to develop posterior subcapsular cataracts (located toward the bottom back of the lens). High plasma concentrations of vitamin C, vitamin E or the carotenoids zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin were not associated with decreased risk.

IMPLICATIONS: This study suggests that high blood levels of carotenoids can help reduce the risk of age-related cataracts. However, because no one can predict the type of cataracts he or she might develop, it might be best to consume a mix of carotenoids.

Gale CR, Hall NF, Phillips DI, et al. "Plasma antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids and age-related cataract," Ophthalmology, 2001;108:1992-1998.

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