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Tips for Sharp Eyesight: Eat Well, Don't Smoke and Avoid Sunlight

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Learn more about these eye studies in the Archives of Ophthalmology.

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Madison, Wisconsin - People who want to avoid eye problems as they age can increase their odds by eating well, avoiding smoking and protecting their eyes from sunlight, according to three studies by University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health researchers published the June Archives of Ophthalmology.


Julie MaresThe first study concluded that women who eat foods rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals may have a lower risk of developing the most common type of cataract.


Cataracts, which increase in prevalence with age, are the most important cause of blindness in the world.


Julie Mares, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and colleagues studied 1,808 women from Iowa, Wisconsin and Oregon. Estimates of daily food and nutrition intake were made from previous responses to the Women's Health Initiative study.


"Results from this study indicate that healthy diets ... are more strongly related to the lower occurrence of nuclear cataracts than any other modifiable risk factor or protective factor studied in this sample of women," the study states.


Audio: Listen to a Department of Health and Human Services HealthBeat report about Julie Mares' research into the link between diet and cataracts among women.

"Lifestyle improvements that include healthy diets, smoking cessation, and avoiding obesity may substantively lower the need for and economic burden of cataract surgery in aging American women."


Healthy lifestyles may also help prevent early-stage, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), according to another article in the journal.


Smoking a Risk Factor in Eye Disease


Ron Klein, professor of ophthalmology and population health sciences at the School of Medicine and Public Health, and colleagues concluded that modifiable risk factors, including smoking, were associated with higher rates of the eye disease, while the protective effects of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good" cholesterol) were associated with a lower risk of AMD. The condition is uncommon in people younger than 55, but risk increases with age.


Audio: Listen to a Department of Health and Human Services HealthBeat report about Ron Klein's research into the link between smoking and age-related macular degeneration.

Klein and colleagues assessed 2,810 individuals age 21 to 84 participating in the Beaver Dam Offspring Study. The presence and severity of drusen - yellow or white deposits in the retina, an early sign of AMD - were determined, along with that of other characteristics of AMD.


Early age-related macular degeneration was present in 3.4 percent of the participants, with rates varying from 2.4 percent in those age 21 to 34 to 9.8 percent in those age 65 years and older.


Besides age, other factors associated with increased risk for AMD included being male, smoking more heavily for a longer period of time, and being hearing-impaired, whereas having higher levels of HDL cholesterol was associated with reduced risk.


Sunlight Associated with Age-Related Cataracts


A third study found that the use of medications that increase sensitivity to the sun - combined with exposure to sunlight - appears to be associated with the risk of age-related cataract.


Lead author Barbara Klein, UW professor of ophthalmology and population health sciences, and colleagues studied 4,926 individuals living in Beaver Dam, Wis, asking about their average annual exposure to ambient UV-B rays. Interviewers also asked participants to bring their medications, and any sun-sensitizing drug-including diuretics, antidepressants, antibiotics and the pain reliever naproxen sodium.


An increasing percentage of study participants reported having taken these types of medications over a 15-year follow-up period (24.1 percent at the beginning of the study, compared with 44.8 percent at the 15-year follow-up). The overall incidence of cataract was not associated with their use or with exposure to sunlight.


However, after adjusting for age and sex, an interaction between sun-sensitizing medication use and UV-B exposure was associated with the development of cortical cataract.


"Our results need to be evaluated in other populations, especially in view of the increasing frequency of sun-sensitizing medications," the authors conclude.

Date Published: 06/16/2010

News tag(s):  ophthalmologyresearch

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Tips for Sharp Eyesight: Eat Well, Don't Smoke and Avoid Sunlight

Last updated: 07/13/2015
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