Wine lovers can feel a bit more confident that the small print on back labels won't grow too blurry as they age. Research from the University of Wisconsin suggests that moderate wine consumption can lower the risk of long-term visual impairment.
Led by Dr. Ronald Klein of Wisconsin’s Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, researchers analyzed data from the Beaver Dam Eye Study, a 20-year look at nearly 6,000 43- to 84-year-old adults in Beaver Dam, Wis. At initial and follow-up visits, subjects’ visual acuity was measured for each eye, with visual impairment calculated based on the number of letters “lost”—that is, the number of letters on a LogMar chart that subjects had previously been able to read but no longer could. Subjects also reported various lifestyle factors, including their smoking, drinking and exercise habits.
Over the 20-year period, subjects lost 6.6 letters on average—not unusual, since aging often leads to visual impairment, Klein said. Alcohol consumption appeared to lessen that incidence, however: 11 percent of abstainers developed visual impairment over 20 years, whereas 4.8 percent of occasional drinkers (those who drank less than one serving of alcohol per week) and 3.6 percent of regular drinkers (who drank one or more servings per week) developed visual impairment. When they focused on wine in particular, researchers noticed that while visual impairment plagued 7.8 percent of non-wine drinkers, only 4 percent of occasional wine drinkers and 2.7 percent of regular wine drinkers developed it.
Those who were physically active were significantly less likely to develop visual impairment than their sedentary peers; smokers, both past and present, lost letters in much higher numbers than nonsmokers.
"While age is usually one of the most strongly associated factors for many eye diseases that cause visual impairment, it is a factor we cannot change," Klein said in a statement. "Lifestyle behaviors like smoking, drinking and physical activity, however, can be altered. So, it's promising, in terms of possible prevention, that these behaviors are associated with developing visual impairment over the long term.”
That moderate drinkers who exercise regularly and do not smoke have better odds of maintaining their eyesight is perhaps not surprising. These lifestyle habits may be associated with other factors, such as diet, that correlate with vision quality. Further research would be needed to discover whether alcohol consumption alone can reduce vision loss.