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Dev Ophthalmol. 2005;38:103-19.

Nutritional supplementation to prevent cataract formation.

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Department of Ophthalmology, Philipps University of Marburg, Marburg, Germany.


Age-related cataract (ARC) is the leading cause of blindness in the world, particularly in developing countries. In contrast, cataract surgery has become the most frequent surgical procedure in people aged 65 years or older in the Western world, causing a considerable financial burden to the health care system. The development of cataracts is mainly an age-related phenomenon, although socioeconomic and lifestyle factors appear to influence their development, e.g. smoking has been found to directly influence ARC. A key role in the pathomechanism of the crystalline lens alteration is played by glucose metabolism and associated effected redox potential, which may induce oxidative damages. Aldose reductase blockers were able to prevent the development of diabetic cataracts in experimental studies, however clinical trials were interrupted due to unclear side effects. Other drugs with radical scavenging properties were effective in in vitro and in vivo experiments, but could not be proven to be efficient and safe in preclinical human trials. A number of epidemiological studies showed an increased risk of nuclear or cortical cataract in people with low blood levels of vitamin E. It is also known that the measured levels of ascorbic acid decline with increasing age in the lens. Beta-Carotin and other non-polar carotenoids seem to be missing and may therefore only play a minor role. Polarized carotenoid lutein and zeaxanthin are available in low concentrations and may therefore have some direct effects. The results of the present interventional studies are still controversial. While the Linxian studies indicated that the prevalence for nuclear cataract was reduced by the supplementation with retinol/zinc or vitamin C/molybdenum, the AREDS trial showed no effect of the antioxidant formulation on the development or progression of ARC. Again, while the REACT study demonstrated a statistically significant positive treatment effect 2 years after treatment for the US patients and for both subgroups (US & UK) after 3 years, no effect was observed in UK patients alone. In another US study, the Physician Health Study, no positive or negative effect of Beta-carotin was observed. Taken together, these studies suggest that any effect of antioxidants on cataract development is likely to be very small and probably is of no clinical or public health significance, thus removing a major rationale for 'anticataract' vitamin supplementation among health-conscious individuals.

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