New York: Statins, a class of drugs used to cut down cholesterol levels, have been successfully fighting heart disease for years. A new study from Tel Aviv University (TAU) has now found that the same drugs cut the risk of cataract in men by almost 40 percent.
"Doctors have known for some time that there is some sort of preventative effect that statins have against cataracts," says Gabriel Chodick, epidemiologist and preventive medicine expert TAU, who led the study.
A cataract is a type of clouding that develops in the lens of the eye, leading to varying degrees of sight impairment.
It typically progresses slowly so that the sufferer may not even be aware of the problem. If left untreated, a cataract can lead to blindness. In the US, cataracts affect about 60 percent of both men and women over the age of 60.
"It seems that they protect the eye from inflammation and ocular nerve cells from a process of oxidisation. But ours is the first study to show such a strong association in such a large population," said Chodick.
The study covered over 180,000 patients between 1998 and 2007.
Chodick and his colleague Varda Shalev found that men aged 45 to 54 who took the statins daily to lower their cholesterol levels also lowered their chances of developing cataracts by 38 percent.
For women of about the same age, the risk for cataracts was also cut dramatically, by about 18 percent.
One of Chodick`s recent studies, featured as part of a Time magazine cover story, showed that statins can reduce a person`s chance of dying from all combined diseases and conditions by 40 percent - something in the medical community called "all-cause mortality".
"Statins are not being taken consistently by patients, and only about 10 percent of those who get these prescriptions actually end up taking them.
"Once you start, it`s important to continue taking them to avoid cardiovascular problems," Chodick warns. "But now we have even more good reasons to keep taking statins - like an apple a day."
"People who begin taking them in their 40s to early 60s can reap a number of benefits, including better protection against cataracts," he said, according to a TAU release.