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Vitamins Lower Risk of Cataracts in Elderly With PM-Pregnancy-Alcohol, Bjt

February 20, 1991

BOSTON (AP) _ Older people who get lots of vitamins lower their risk of cataracts, but a lifetime of healthy eating may be necessary to avoid this leading cause of blindness, researchers say.

A new study provides some of the strongest support yet for the benefits of anti-oxidants, nutrients that counteract the effects of oxygen. Experts believe that just as oxygen rusts iron, it also can harm the eye, and some vitamins can slow or prevent eye damage that commonly afflicts the elderly.

The researchers found that people who regularly used multivitamin supplements were 37 percent less likely to have cataracts of all types.

The study, directed by Dr. M. Christina Leske of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, was published in the February issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology. It was based on 1,380 people treated a two Boston hospitals.

Cataracts are cloudy areas on the clear lens that block light entering the eye. About 50 million people around the world are blind because of cataracts. Surgery is the only treatment, and in the United States alone doctors do more than 540,000 of these operations annually at a cost of $3.8 billion.

″The general message will be that one can diminish the risk of developing cataracts by the use of relatively elevated levels of some of the anti-oxidant nutrients,″ said Dr. Allen Taylor.

″The public health ramifications are considerable.″

Taylor, a biochemist, has been a leading researcher in the field as head of the Laboratory for Nutrition and Vision Research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University.

He also said people will probably need to start while young to prevent a lifelong accumulation of eye damage.

″My bet is that these are long-term effects,″ said Taylor. ″You cannot enjoy the benefits of a multivitamin just at the end of the line. You should follow a prudent diet early in life.″

However, authors of the latest study said they were unwilling to recommend that people take vitamins or change what they eat until more research is done.

While the study clearly shows an association between vitamins and fewer cataracts, the authors cautioned that they cannot be sure that vitamin pills or a healthy diet will actually ward of this eye disease.

″We know that taking vitamin supplements decreases the risk,″ said Dr. Leo T. Chylack, a co-author of the study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

″We really can’t make the jump between these findings and public health recommendations,″ he said. ″The risk of taking vitamin supplements is low. Is there any harm? Probably not. But we can’t say there is any real benefit yet.″

Researchers hope to answer that question with a study in Boston and the English cities of Oxford and Bradford. In that study, 280 people with early cataracts will take daily vitamins or dummy placebos to see if the treatment slows or stops their disease.

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