As people age, the body’s ability to self-repair starts to diminish. One effect of this is that tissue in the eye starts to stiffen and break down. When the bits of tissue accumulate and block vision, cataracts form—half of all people in the United States of 80 have had cataracts. They are particularly likely in people who have a family history of cataracts or who have type 2 diabetes, who smoke, who drink heavily, who have high blood pressure, who are obese, who spend a lot of time in the sunlight, or who have a history of using corticosteroids, including be prescription for inflammation.
Interestingly, in light of the connection between obesity and cataracts, one thing that prevents cataracts from developing is cholesterol. That’s why, if some studies are accurate, cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins may actually make cataracts more likely to occur. However, different studies have produced different findings. One large-scale study found that statin users are 27 percent more likely to get cataracts the people who never took statins, after taking into account other contributing factors.
Other studies have shown no connection, with researchers noting that both cataracts and use of cholesterol-lowering medications are common among older people. In fact, a study presented in 2013 at the European Society of Cardiology Congress suggested that statins could actually protect patients from cataracts. In this study, statins appeared to lower cataract risk 20 percent. When treatment was given to patients under 50, cataract risk was cut in half. Whatever the reality is, patients who have been prescribed statins are advised to take them, but also to alert their eye care specialists and to be vigilant about cataracts.
Scientists are also working on developing a better understanding of the process by which cataracts form. There are three types of protein in the lens of the eye. Two are the actual material that does into the lens; the third, known as the chaperone protein, ordinarily prevents clumping and helps maintain the shape of the lens. These chaperone proteins, however, are not in unlimited supply. Once they are used up, late in life, the structural proteins have nothing stopping them from forming clumps and causing clouded vision. Researches hope that by studying this system in more depth they will be able to prevent cataracts rather than treating them after they occur.