Alcohol and Cataracts: Important Health Information

The subject of alcohol and cataracts is important. Most people drink alcohol, and as we age, our chances of having cataracts increase.

        Overview

I.   Cataracts

II.  Signs of Cataracts

III. Risk Factors

IV.  Evidence

V.   Resources

I. Cataracts

Cataracts are clouding of the eye lens. They may occur in one or both eyes. If untreated, they can lead to blindness.

They are common with advancing age. For example, the rate for those 60-64 it’s 15%. For those 70-74, it jumps to 36%. And for those 80 or older, it leaps to 68%. 

Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in both developed and developing countries. As populations age, cataracts and their visual impairment increase.

II. Signs of Cataracts

Signs of cataracts may include any of these.

alcohol and cataracts
Eye to the right has a cataract.
    • Clouded or dim vision.
    • More problems seeing at night
    • Problems with light and glare.
    • Need brighter lights for reading.
    • “Halos” around lights.
    • Colors that aren’t so vivid now.
    • Changes often needed in lens prescriptions.
    • Double vision in one eye.

If any of these problems occur, see an eye doctor.

III.   Risk Factors

A risk factor is anything that increases the chances of getting a disease. However, some people with many risk factors never get the disease. On the other hand, some people get the disease without having any of the risk factors.

Keeping that in mind, here are some risk factors for cataracts.

    • Older age
    • Smoking
    • Either abstaining from alcohol or abusing it.
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    • High blood pressure.
    • Being female.
    • After age 70, being white. 
    • Diabetes
    • Obesity
    • Family history of cataracts.
    • Exposure to radiation.
    • Too much sun exposure
    • Eye injury.
    • Past eye surgery.
    • Inadequate vitamins C and E.
    • Estrogen replacement therapy.
    • Long-term use of steroids.

By age 80, 70% of whites, 61% percent of Hispanic Americans, and 53% of African Americans have cataracts.

IV. Evidence: Alcohol and Cataracts

Recent Research

Chua and Colleagues

Chua and colleagues1 analyzed 469,387 participants of the UK Biobank. They also studied 23,162 participants of EPIC-Norfolk.  The mean age of the former was 56. That of the latter was 59. 

The researchers followed those in the UK Biobank for about eight years. And they followed the others for over 16 years. During those periods, there were 23,584 cataract surgeries.alcohol and cataracts

They found that drinkers were less to have cataract surgery than were non-drinkers. Drinkers in the Biobank were 11% less likely and those in EPIC were 10% less likely. Of course, Chua and colleagues adjusted for covariables.

The researchers also found a U-shaped relation in the Biobank group. That is, abstainers had one level of surgeries. Moderate drinkers had a lower level. Then heavy drinkers had a level comparable to that of abstainers. So moderate drinking is a “sweet spot” for avoiding the need for cataract surgeries.

On the other hand, they found in EPIC that greater consumption was associated with reduced risk.

Reviews of Evidence

Before these studies, there were two reviews of research evidence.

Gong and Colleagues

Beer, wine, and liquor (spirits) in moderation generally have the same health benefits.  

Gong and colleagues2 studied the relationship between drinking alcohol and cataracts. To do so, they they analyzed ten studies. They defined moderate drinking as consuming two or fewer daily drinks. But it was more than never drinking. They defined heavy drinking as consuming more than two daily drinks. And they applied that to both men and women.

The researchers concluded that moderate drinking may be protective against cataracts. On the other hand, they found that heavy drinking increased the risk.

Wang and Zhang

Wang and Zhang3 examined seven studies with a total of 119,706 participants. They defined heavy drinking as two or more daily drinks. Moderate drinking was consuming less than heavy drinking but more than abstaining. In both cases, the definition applied to men and to women. Wang and Zhang compared drinkers with abstainers.

The researchers found that neither moderate nor heavy drinking increased the risk of cataracts. On the other hand, they also found that neither reduced such risk.

V. Resources: Alcohol and Cataracts

Web Pages

Drinkers Live Longer.

Benefits of Drinking Outweigh Harm from Abuse: Live Longer.

Should Older People Drink Less Alcohol or More Alcohol?

Alcohol and Health.

Popular Readings and Videos

FHS, Inc. Eyes. NY: Films Media Group, 2012 (eVideo).

Kitchen, C. Fact and Fiction of Healthy Vision. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2007.  

Narins, B. The Gale Encyclopedia of Senior Health. A Guide for Seniors and Their Caregivers. Farmington Hills: Gale, 2021.

Nguyen, K. et al. Cataracts and Visual Decline. NY: Springer, 2019 (eVideo).

Omni, Inc. Eye Care Sourcebook. Basic Consumer Health Information. Detroit: Omni, 2017.

Footnotes

  1. Chua, S. et al. Alcohol consumption and incident cataract surgery in two large UK cohorts. Ophtha, 2021, pub online March 8. 
  2. Gong, Y. et al. Different amounts of alcohol consumption and cataract. A meta-analysis. Optom Vis Sci, 2015, 92(4), 471-479.
  3. Wang, W. and Zhang, X. Alcohol intake and the risk of age-related cataracts. A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. PLos One, 2014, 9(9), pub online Sep 19.

Note

This website takes no view on drinking alcohol and cataracts. So, as always, see your eye doctor for any concerns.