Medical science is all over the place these days, with one recent study erroneously claiming that “multivitamins” are a complete waste of money, while many other studies say they are beneficial. Well, now a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Ophthalmology has confirmed that daily multivitamin use in men can help protect against cataracts, one of the leading causes of blindness among the elderly.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School found, after analyzing data collected as part of the Physicians’ Health Study II (PHS II), that men who supplement their diets with a daily multivitamin, along with vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene (precursor to vitamin A), fare better in terms of eye health than men taking a placebo. Though slight, this reduced risk is noteworthy, as it lends credence to the health-promoting effects of multivitamins.
For the research, Dr. William Christen and his team evaluated 12,641 male doctors aged 50 years or older who participated in PHS II between 1997 and 2011. According to Medical News Today, half of the men were assigned to take the daily multivitamin regimen, while the others took a daily placebo. Neither the researchers nor the participants knew which group was receiving which treatment.
The research team followed all the men for an average of 11.2 years, tracking each new case of cataracts or age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in both groups. At the end of the study period, they identified 945 new cases of cataracts in the placebo group and 872 cases of cataracts in the multivitamin group, which represents a 9 percent decreased risk.
For nuclear cataracts, which form even deeper in the lens of the eye, the risk reduction was even more significant. On average, the men who took the multivitamin had about a 13 percent reduced risk of developing nuclear cataracts compared to men who took the placebo, illustrating a modest yet significant benefit associated with multivitamin use.
“If multivitamins really do reduce the risk of cataract, even by a modest 10 percent, this rather small reduction would nonetheless have a large public health impact,” stated Dr. Christen, the study’s lead author, about the findings.
Lutein, zeazanthin particularly beneficial in protecting against AMD
Though this particular study did not show the same benefits with regard to AMD,an earlier observational study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition back in 2007 determined that multivitamins and mineral supplements, particularly those that contain antioxidants beneficial to eye health, can be beneficial in protecting against the disease.
“The results of observational studies suggest that a healthy lifestyle with a diet containing foods rich in antioxidants, particularly lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as n-3 (omega-3) fatty acids, appears beneficial for AMD and possibly cataract,” wrote Johanna M. Seddon and her colleagues, also from Harvard Medical School.
Based on these findings and those of similar studies, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that individuals with intermediate or advanced AMD supplement with antioxidant vitamins and mineral supplements that include high doses of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc and copper. And even those without AMD may benefit from taking these nutrients, which have been shown to provide long-term protective benefits against age-related blindness.
“Cataract is the most common surgery that Medicare pays for, and it’s going to get worse,” stated Dr. Emily Y. Chew, M.D., deputy clinical director at the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, to Medscape Medical News about the findings. “Anything we can do to reduce it is a major feat.”