Vegetarians may have a reduced risk of developing cataracts, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers at the University of Oxford in England studied the lifestyle characteristics of 27,670 self-reported nondiabetic participants aged 40 and older by using data from the Hospital Episode Statistics in England and Scottish Morbidity Records.
Participants were asked to fill out dietary surveys between 1993 and 1999, then their medical records between 2008 and 2009 were monitored to see if they developed cataracts. Almost 1,500 had cataracts during the follow-up period. The data showed that vegetarians and vegans were 30 to 40 percent less likely to develop cataracts than high meat eaters.
“There are many good reasons to follow a healthy diet and our study
suggests that lowering your risk of cataract can now be added to these,” lead author Paul Appleby, Senior Statistician, Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, said in an email to Cataract & Refractive Surgery Today. “How far individuals move along the path towards a plant-based diet is a matter of personal choice.”
There was a strong relation between cataract risk and diet group, with a progressive decrease in risk of cataract in high meat eaters – those who ate 100 grams (3.5 or more ounces) daily -- to moderate meat eaters (1.7 to 3.4 ounces), low meat eaters (less than 1.7 ounces), fish eaters (participants who ate fish but not meat), vegetarians, and vegans, with risk ratios of 0.96, 0.85, 0.79, 0.70 and 0.60, respectively.
The study authors point out that eating meat does not necessarily promote cataract formation, rather it is vegetables that may have protective nutrients that lower cataract risk; and vegetarians may practice other healthy lifestyle behaviors that can contribute to a lower risk for cataracts.
“There was no obvious explanation of our findings in terms of specific nutrients. It may be that diet group is simply a better marker of a healthy diet than the intake of any given nutrient,” Mr. Appleby said.
1. Appleby PN, Allen NE, Key TJ. Diet, vegetarianism, and cataract risk. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(5):1128-35.