June 21, 2006

Cholesterol-lowering drugs may cut cataract risk

By Anthony J. Brown, MD

NEW YORK -- Taking a 'statin' cholesterol-lowering drug may be good for the eyes as well as the heart.

People who take statins such as Zocor or Lipitor, for example, have a 45 percent reduced risk of developing a cataract, a clouding of the lens of the eye, according to a report in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Oxidative stress is thought to play a role in the development of cataracts," study co-author Kristine E. Lee, from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, told Reuters Health. Therefore, treatment with statins, which seem to have antioxidant as well as lipid-lowering properties, may be useful in preventing this common eye problem, she added.

The researchers analyzed data on 1299 subjects who participated in the Beaver Dam Eye Study, a population-based study that focused on age-related eye disease.

The subjects were considered to be at risk for developing cataracts and were evaluated between 1998 and 2000, and between 2003 and 2005. All of the participants had ocular photographs taken of both eyes.

During follow-up, 210 subjects developed a cataract. The 5-year rate of cataract occurrence among statin users was 12.2 percent, significantly lower than the 17.2 percent rate noted in those who did not take a statin.

"We hypothesized that statin use would reduce the risk of cataracts, but we were surprised by the strength of the association," Lee said. Nonetheless, she agreed that it is premature to recommend statins solely for their possible role in cataract prevention and called for randomized trials to investigate this topic.

This risk reduction uncovered in this study applied to the most common type of age-related cataract, called a nuclear cataract. The rates of other types -- cortical and posterior subcapsular cataracts -- were not significantly different between statin users and non-users.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, June 21, 2006.