A common cholesterol drug fights cataracts, too

February 10, 2010

Statins, a class of drugs used to lower cholesterol levels, have been successfully fighting heart disease for years. A new study from Tel Aviv University has now found that the same drugs cut the risks of cataracts in men by almost 40%.

"Doctors have known for some time that there is some sort of preventative effect that statins have against cataracts," says Dr. Gabriel Chodick of the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, who led the study. "It seems that they protect the eye from inflammation and ocular from a process of oxidization. But ours is the first study to show such a strong association in such a large population."

The study covered over 180,000 patients between the years of 1998 and 2007 and was published in the February 2010 issue of the .

From the heart to the head

Dr. Chodick and his colleague Dr. Varda Shalev found that men aged 45 to 54 who took the statins daily to lower their cholesterol levels also lowered their chances of developing cataracts by 38%. For women of about the same age, the risk for cataracts was also cut dramatically, by about 18%.

Dr. Chodick has been studying the health benefits of statins for years. One of his recent studies, featured as part of a Time magazine cover story, showed that statins can reduce a person's chance of dying from all combined diseases and conditions by 40% -- something in the medical community called "all-cause mortality."

"People who persistently take statins have tremendously reduced chances of by disease. We began to think that statins, which are proven to prevent cardiovascular disease, may do other good things in the body as well. We started investigating cataracts to show statins' effects in a more statistical manner," says Dr. Chodick.

A statin a day...

"Statins are not being taken consistently by patients, and only about 10% of those who get these prescriptions actually end up taking them. Once you start, it's important to continue taking them to avoid cardiovascular problems," Dr. Chodick warns. "But now we have even more good reasons to keep taking statins ― like an apple a day. People who begin taking them in their 40s to early 60s can reap a number of benefits, including better protection against cataracts."

A cataract is a type of clouding that develops in the lens of the eye, leading to varying degrees of sight impairment. It typically progresses slowly so that the sufferer may not even be aware of the problem. If left untreated, a cataract can lead to blindness. In the U.S., cataracts affect about 60% of both men and women over the age of 60. About 1.5 million cataract surgeries are performed in the U.S. each year, and visual disabilities associated with cataracts lead to over 8 million physician office visits a year.

"We believe that the regular use of statins for men and women under the age of 75 can significantly protect them against cataracts," Dr. Chodick concludes. Whether people who are not at risk for heart attacks should take them as a preventative alone has not been determined. But before long we may be taking a daily pill along with our daily vitamin tablet, Dr. Chodick believes.

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2 comments

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CarolinaScotsman
not rated yet Feb 10, 2010
Don't forget that there is a small but significant number of people who can't take statins because of muscle breakdown. Every drug, even aspirin, has some side effects along with the benefits. One must carefully consider the risks versus benefits for medications. That said, I'm glad I've been taking ststins regularly for ten years now.
deatopmg
1 / 5 (1) Feb 10, 2010
Don't forget that there is a small but significant number of people who can't take statins because of muscle breakdown. Every drug, even aspirin, has some side effects along with the benefits. One must carefully consider the risks versus benefits for medications. That said, I'm glad I've been taking ststins regularly for ten years now.
Said like a true PhRMA ghost writer.

That carefully hidden number is not a small percentage but over 40% of people taking statins experience muscle problems (including heart muscles) and other serious side effects. This is from an early study where several frustrated Drs. involved in the study released all the testing data after the pharma reported, using tortured data, that only a small percentage of the population experienced serious side effects.

The statins probably work to protect against cataracts by reducing CRP, i.e inflammation.

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