3rd January 2023
5 minute read
Categorised under:
Eye Health

Does alcohol affect cataracts?

Alcohol is often cited as being one of the main potential causes of cataracts, but there is some conflicting evidence out there on the Internet. That can make it hard to know what to believe.

If you’re concerned about whether alcohol affects cataracts, you’re not alone. Drinking alcohol is a normal part of the week for the majority of adults in Britain, and the amount of alcohol consumed can vary from a glass of wine every evening to more intense binge drinking on Saturday nights out.

If you only drink alcohol in small amounts or on special occasions, then you needn’t worry about any adverse effects on your eyesight. The real problems start to occur if you’re ingesting alcohol with frequency and in larger amounts.

Read on to find out how much we currently know about whether alcohol affects cataracts.

Does alcohol affect cataracts?

First of all, let’s define what cataracts are.

Cataracts are a clouding of the eye’s lens. They normally develop over a long period of time, are not life-threatening, and can be treated with outpatient surgery.

When cataracts first begin to develop, you may not even be aware of them, but as they take over the lens, you will find it increasingly difficult to read, drive, distinguish colours or fine detail and see people’s faces.

Most cases of cataracts occur in people aged over 55, as it’s usually an age-related disease. There are, however, cases when they develop in younger people as a result of wear and tear on the eye due to operations, or even as a consequence of certain lifestyle choices.

So does alcohol affect cataracts? It’s thought that one of the lifestyle choices that may trigger cataracts is excessive alcohol consumption. Studies have shown that those who regularly consume large quantities of alcohol are more likely to develop cataracts.

It shouldn’t just be cataracts that concern you, though. Alcohol also accelerates the process of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), as alcohol prevents the liver and other internal organs from functioning properly and that leads to nutritional deficiencies and optical nerve damage. Some AMD symptoms to look out for are blurred vision, faded colours, and deteriorating central vision.

Optic Neuropathy, night blindness, thinning of the cornea, corneal perforation, dryness, and even blindness can all be caused by alcohol abuse.

Is it true that drinking wine can prevent cataracts?

We may have some better news for you, though.

Recent studies have shown that there may be some benefits to drinking red wine in small quantities.

According to evidence collected by investigators from the NIHR Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, of all the alcohols, wine has the strongest protective effect against cataracts.

These surprising results, published in Ophthalmology, showed that the abundance of antioxidants found in red wine could be beneficial for the eye’s health. 

The results suggested that polyphenol antioxidants, which are especially abundant in red wine, could protect against gradual damage from oxidative stress during ageing. 

Grape skin is packed with antioxidants, resveratrol, and flavonoids, powerful plant compounds which are found in higher concentrations in red wine than in white, and both wines contain more antioxidants than beer or other alcohol types.

The investigators followed the progress of 490,000 UK volunteers. Those who consumed approximately 6.5 glasses of wine per week were found to be less likely to undergo cataract surgery.

Those who consumed a little wine each week benefited more than those who abstained from alcohol, and even those who drank other types of alcohol. 

There was a 23 percent reduction in cataract surgery in one study group and a 14 percent reduction in the second group. 

Other results showed:

  • Participants who drank 1-2 times and 3-4 times a week had a 7% and 6% lower risk of cataract surgery compared to participants who drank 1-3 times or less a month. 
  • Participants who drank daily or almost daily had a 6% and 5% higher risk of cataract surgery versus those who drank alcohol just a few days a week.

The investigators made a point of emphasising that the study does not establish a 100% cause-and-effect principle, but rather backs up the idea that there’s a strong relationship between cataracts and alcohol consumption.

They also reiterated that overconsumption of alcohol can lead to many health problems which lead to degeneration of the eye, such as obesity. 

The best option was to maintain moderate levels of alcohol consumption in accordance with current guidelines by health organisations. They stressed that further studies were required to clarify and analyse whether alcohol affects cataracts in a more direct way.

So there’s a bit of good news! You can still indulge in a nice glass of red wine a couple of evenings a week. As they say, a little of everything in moderation does you good. If you’re concerned about yourself or someone close to you developing cataracts, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our friendly team of professionals today.

Did you find what you were looking for?

Thank you for feedback