Diet 'can cut cataracts risk'

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

PEOPLE in middle-age who eat a diet rich in spinach and supplement it with vitamin C, can dramatically reduce their risk of serious cataracts - a 'clouding' of the eye lens resulting in poor vision - in later life.

Substances in the spinach known as carotenes which are converted to vitamin A by the body, together with vitamin C, may slow down the natural chemical changes taking place in the eye lens with age.

Cataracts are common in the elderly and almost everyone over the age of 65 has some degree of cataract, necessitating surgical removal of the affected lens in serious cases. Almost 80,000 operations were carried out in England between 1988 and 1989 (the last year for which data is available), and they are likely to become more common in an ageing population. Delaying the onset of cataracts by 10 years could reduce the need for surgery overall by 45 per cent, American researchers claim in a report in tomorrow's issue of the British Medical Journal.

A team of scientists, nutritionists and opthalmologists from Harvard Medical School and two Boston hospitals studied a group of more than 50,000 American nurses aged between 45 and 67, over eight years.

During this time, 493 cataracts were removed, and the researchers found that women whose intake of carotene and vitamin A was greatest had a 39 per cent lower risk of serious cataracts than women who ate a diet poor in these nutrients. Many foods contain vitamins A and C but 'spinach was most consistently associated with a lower relative risk'.

Manufacturers of genetically-engineered human insulin, which has largely replaced animal insulin in the treatment of diabetes, have been criticised for failing to carry out large-scale clinical trials to find out if patients who use it are at an increased risk of hypoglycaemic ('low blood sugar') attacks. These can lead to loss of consciousness and coma. Commercial interests may have obstructed the ethical process through which new products are introduced, researchers suggest in a BMJ article.