Drinking alcohol in moderation cuts the risk of needing eye cataract surgery by up to a quarter, research suggests.
The study, carried out by Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and University College London’s Institute of Ophthalmology, found that drinkers who consumed up to 14 units per week – the maximum recommended by the NHS – were less likely to have the operation to remove cloudy patches from the lens of the eye.
The most significant reduction in risk was linked to drinking wine rather than beer or spirits, with people who drank wine five or more times per week up to 23% less likely than non-drinkers to undergo cataract surgery.
However, people who drank a lot of beer, cider or spirits had no significantly reduced risk.
Fourteen units of alcohol per week is the equivalent of about six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine.
A 750ml bottle of red, white or rose wine (alcohol by volume 13.5%) contains 10 units.
The research is the largest of its kind to date and examined data from more than 490,000 people in the UK Biobank and EPIC-Norfolk cohort studies.
A team of experts compared how much people said they drank with patient records of cataract surgery, adjusting for factors that could influence the result, such as age, weight and gender.
Writing in the journal Ophthalmology, they concluded: “Our findings suggest a lower risk of undergoing cataract surgery with low to moderate alcohol consumption. The association was particularly apparent with wine consumption.”
The experts noted, however, that drinking large amounts of alcohol is linked to a range of serious health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
An estimated 30% of over-65s are thought to have cataracts that affect their vision in one or both eyes.
Cataract surgery involves replacing the lens with a clear plastic one.
Dr Anthony P Khawaja, who led the research, said: “We observed a dose-response with our findings – in other words, there was evidence for reducing chance of requiring future cataract surgery with progressively higher alcohol intake, but only up to moderate levels within current guidelines.
“This does support a direct role of alcohol in the development of cataracts, but further studies are needed to investigate this.”
Dr Sharon Chua, who also worked on the study, said: “The fact that our findings were particularly evident in wine drinkers may suggest a protective role of polyphenol antioxidants, which are especially abundant in red wine.”