A glass of wine may be a sight for sore eyes, but drinking it may also help reduce the risk of cataracts. A new study out of Iceland found that red wine drinkers had the lowest incidence of eye opacity compared to nondrinkers and people who drink primarily either beer or spirits.
Moderate red wine drinkers had roughly half the risk of cataracts as nondrinkers did, according to the study, which was presented at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology's annual meeting in Fort Lauderdale in May.
"These were mostly red wine drinkers because white wine is not widely consumed in Iceland," said coauthor Fridbert Jonasson, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Iceland. "We don't know if white wine does the same."
The conclusions were drawn from the larger Reykjavik Eye Study, a five-year population study started in 1996 that initially included 1,379 people free of any major eye ailment. The aim of that study was to examine the degeneration of eyesight in people ages 55 and older. As a sub-study, the scientists looked at whether the incidence of cataracts changed according to participants' drinking habits.
In the study, almost 40 percent of the participants consumed alcohol, and of those, more than 90 percent described themselves as moderate drinkers, loosely defined as someone who consumes anywhere between two glasses per month to two or three glasses per day. Anyone who consumed less was classified as a nondrinker and anyone who consumed more was classified as a "heavy" drinker and was then excluded from the study.
In 1996 and at the study's conclusion in 2001, subjects underwent thorough eye exams. Volunteers also completed questionnaires on their general health, lifestyle habits and drinking patterns. Any subject who changed drastically in any of these categories was excluded, leaving 832 people.
Jonasson and his team measured the number of cataract cases that occurred across the different consumption categories during the five-year period. They found that a little more than 32 percent of nondrinkers developed some form of cataracts, while cataracts occurred in 23 percent of beer drinkers, 19 percent of spirit drinkers and 13 percent of red wine drinkers.
According to the researchers, those results translated into about a 50 percent lower chance of red wine drinkers developing cataracts, after adjusting for other known risk factors such as smoking, not wearing sunglasses and therapeutic steroid use.
Beer and spirits drinkers still showed some reduction in cataract occurrences after those adjustments, although the study authors said there turned out to be "no significant association" with cataract risk.
The authors also noted that an eye study done in Iceland may not be comparable to other populations.