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Nutrition scientists take a look at cataract prevention

Age-related cataract, the world's leading cause of blindness, affects more than 20 million Americans over the age of 40 years. Surgical correction is currently the only known option for intervention, but researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University recently sought, in three different studies, to determine if prevention is possible. Their findings suggest that vitamins and polyunsaturated fatty acids--two categories of nutrients believed to have health benefits--may both affect cataract development, although not necessarily in beneficial ways.

In one study, lead scientist Paul Jacques, DSc, director of the Nutritional Epidemiology Program at the Center, and his colleagues analyzed the diets and examined the eyes of a group of Boston-area women over the course of five years. Among the study participants, who were all members of the larger Nurses' Health Study, women who reported supplementing their diets with vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant) for 10 years or more had significantly less progression of cataract development at the five-year follow-up exam. A similar relative decrease in cataract progression was seen in women who reported higher intakes of two of the B vitamins, riboflavin and thiamin, when compared to women with lower intakes.

"Our results," says Jacques, who is also a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, "suggest that vitamin supplementation, particularly long-term use of vitamin E, may slow down cataract development." These results build upon some of Jacques' earlier work. In 2001, while examining the same group of Nurses' Health Study members, Jacques and his colleagues found support for a similar role for vitamin C in the prevention of cataracts.

"On the other hand," says Jacques, "the results were not so clear when we looked at dietary fat." In the same population of women, Jacques and his colleagues found that high dietar
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Contact: Siobhan Gallagher
617-636-6586
Tufts University
9-Aug-2005


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