One of the most common questions I am asked during an eye exam is “Doc, what can I do to protect my eyes against cataracts?” My advice has always remained the same, UV protection! New research from the National Eye Institute may change my tried and true answer.
Data from the Physicians’ Health Study (PHS) II was analyzed by William G. Christen, ScD of Harvard Medical School. Participants of the study were all middle-aged to older male physicians. Of these, 11,497 of them were randomly assigned to take a multivitamin, while 14,233 were assigned a daily placebo pill. None of the study participants had existing cataracts at the start of the study.
The physicians in the study were followed between 1997-2011 and provided information on pill-taking adherence, adverse side-effects, and pre-existing cataract risk factors. The study participants also reported the occurrence of new cataracts.
After following each male for an average of 11.2 years, there were 1817 cases of cataract formation. The researchers determined that the participants taking the multivitamin had a 9% lower risk for developing cataracts than the placebo group.
While 9% is a pretty low amount, that 9% may have a large impact. Cataract surgery is the most commonly performed surgery in North America. Reducing the amount of cataract extractions by even 9% would greatly reduce the impact it has on our healthcare system. It could reduce the dollars spent on cataract removal surgeries as well as decrease the wait time for the surgery.
The new data suggests that taking a multivitamin is something we should encourage in more patients. You’re probably doing yourself some good by taking a multivitamin – not likely going to cause any harm – and maybe it will stave off your cataract progression.
If you live long enough, you will get cataracts, they are a product of time. But there are a few things you can do to slow this process down. As I mentioned earlier, protect yourself from UV rays with a UV coating or sunglasses. Don’t smoke. Eat healthy, and especially eat foods high in antioxidants such as dark green leafy vegetables and berries. And finally, a multivitamin may be beneficial as well.