A new British study has found that people who drink up to 14 units of alcohol per week are less likely to require cataract surgery.
The research was carried out by academics from Moorfields Eye Hospital in London and University College London’s Institute of Ophthalmology. They studied the medical and lifestyle history of 492,549 participants in either the UK Biobank or Epic-Norfolk studies of people’s health over many decades.
The study found that the risk of developing cataracts was lower among wine drinkers than those who consumed beer or spirits. The Epic-Norfolk study also revealed that people who drank wine at least five times a week were 23% less likely to have cataract removal than non-drinkers, while participants in the UK Biobank study were 14% less likely.
Researchers have already suggested that these findings could be linked to the antioxidant properties of red wine, although this is not confirmed.
Dr Sharon Chua, the first author of the findings said: “Cataract development may be due to gradual damage from oxidative stress during ageing. The fact that our findings were particularly evident in wine drinkers may suggest a protective role of polyphenol antioxidants, which are especially abundant in red wine.”
Dr Anthony Khawaja, who led the research, added: “We observed a dose-response with our findings – in other words, there was evidence for reducing the chance of requiring future cataract surgery with progressively higher alcohol intake, but only up to moderate levels within government guidelines.”
14 units per week is the maximum recommended by the government, equating to around six and a half glasses of wine. The NHS currently lists excessive alcohol consumption as one of the risk factors for cataracts, along with smoking, diabetes and a family history of the condition.
However, some researchers have cast doubt on the recent findings. Dr Sadie Boniface from the Institute of Alcohol Studies thinktank, indicated that longitudinal studies can paint a distorted picture because many participants are in good health.
“Comparing the health of moderate drinkers with that of non-drinkers also carries problems. Non-drinkers are a diverse group, including people who have stopped drinking because of health problems. This means moderate drinking can artificially look like it carries health benefits, because the moderate drinkers are compared to people on average in poor health,” said Boniface.
She also suggested that the wine-drinking participants may have other health and lifestyle characteristics that affected their risk of cataracts, which were not accounted for in the studies.