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The Nutrition and Vision Project
The Nutrition and Vision Project (NVP) is an ongoing collaboration between the Nutritional Epidemiology Program at the USDA Center at Tufts, the Center for Ophthalmic Research at Brigham and Women's Hospital at Harvard, and the Nurses' Health Study at Harvard.
Findings from the NVP research team over the years strongly suggest that antioxidants provide protection against nuclear and cortical opacity (1). They have observed, for example, that:
In a new study, the NVP reports that long-term vitamin E supplementation and higher intake of several B-vitamins may reduce cataract progression (2).
The present study examines the change in nuclear lens opacity during a 5-year follow-up period in women aged 52 to 74. Nutrient intake was determined from multiple food frequency and supplement use questionnaires. The degree of nuclear density (opacification) was assessed using computer-assisted analysis of digital lens images.
The median 5-year change in nuclear density of 18 was positively correlated with amount of opacity at baseline (p< .001). Geometric mean 5-year change in nuclear density was inversely associated with the intake of riboflavin (p trend = .03) and thiamin (p trend = .04). However, the strongest inverse correlation was between change in nuclear density and length of vitamin E supplement use (p trend = .006). The increase in nuclear density among women who never used vitamin E supplements was 42% higher than for those who used vitamin E supplements for 10 or more years (Table 1).
The authors conclude: "Our observation that vitamin E intake is associated with a reduction in nuclear opacification is consistent with other longitudinal studies and strengthens the hypothesized role for this specific nutrient in nuclear cataract formation".
The authors offer several possible explanations as to why the inverse association between vitamin C intake and cataract seen previously was not observed in this study. First, women who did not use vitamin C supplements and had a greater risk of increased nuclear density were, unfortunately, excluded from the analyses. Secondly, different nutrients may influence the process of lens opacification at different stages. Previous studies examined very early opacities, while the current study largely examined their progression. Vitamin C may help protect lens crystallins from initial insults, while vitamin E and other nutrients seem to act at a later stage, perhaps protecting lens membranes against damage.
Table 1. Relation Between 5-Year Change in Nuclear Density and Duration of Vitamin Supplement Use*
95% Confidence Interval
*Geometric 5-year change in mean nuclear density measured as pixel density units adjusted for age at examination, smoking at baseline, body mass index at baseline, summertime sunlight exposure in 1980, usual alcohol intake at baseline, nuclear density at baseline, & length of follow-up. † No or <1yr use of supplement
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