Do Statins Cause Cataracts?

by Leigh on September 23, 2013

statins and cataractsAlthough there are often effective natural ways to reduce cholesterol and reduce heart disease risks, many physicians continue to push statins and many patients have come to expect a prescription for these drugs. Unfortunately, statins have a range of side-effects, some potentially very dangerous, and now another study has found a link between statins and cataract development, which may have some looking a little differently at ways to manage cardiovascular disease risk factors.

But wasn’t it only last year that researchers remained convinced that statins actually helped reduce the risk of cataracts?

Cataracts 29% More Likely with Statin Use

This latest study is being heralded as confirmation of the link between statins and cataract development, as it looked at over 45,000 subjects (from miliatry health records) and noted a significant increase in the incidence of cataracts in patients taking statins for two or more years. All statin users had a 9% increase in cataract development and in those who had no comorbidities there was a staggering 29% increase in the likelihood of developing cataracts.

Or is it a 20% Reduction in Cataracts with Statins?

Publishing the paper in the JAMA Ophthalmology, Dr. Jessica Leuschen of Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgery Center, San Antonio, Texas, and colleagues were careful to point out that prior research reported conflicting results when it came to the effects, if any, of statins on cataract incidence. One previous analysis, presented at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) 2013 Congress, actually showed a 20% reduction in cataract incidence in those taking statins, with younger patients apparently enjoying even greater protection if they started taking statins early in life.

Propensity for Cataract Development Skews Results

Leuschen’s work, however, found that those taking statins (usually simvastatin) for more than 90 days had a significant increase in cataract risk, with consistent findings across two, four, and six years. The difference with this analysis is that patients were matched at the start of the study for their propensity to develop cataracts, removing a number of significant confounding factors that can skew later analysis. These factors include such things as access to healthcare and insurance, smoking, diabetes, salt intake, and age which can all influence both cataract development and the likelihood of patients ending up on statins.

Healthy-User Bias

Another way to describe oddity of research is the so-called ‘healthy-use’ bias which is where a patient taking one medication may simply be more likely to be health conscious and seek medical attention for another condition. As such, patients taking statins may also be more diligent about doing things to prevent cataract development, leading to results that incorrectly indicate a lower risk of cataracts in statin users.

Statins: A Necessary Evil?

For some people the use of statins appears their best option to control dangerously elevated cholesterol, especially when genetic predisposition makes natural interventions less likely to result in significant beneficial effects. Stopping statins in these patients due to a potential increase in the risk of cataracts may not be the best course of action, although each patient will need to discuss their individual risk and priorities with their physician. Generally, the more effective a medication the more likely it is to have side effects, so it certainly pays to explore alternative treatments to prevent heart disease, where possible and, in this case, possibly prevent cataract development linked to statin use.

Read more on natural ways to lower cholesterol.

Reference

Leuschen J, Mortensen EM, Frel CR, et al. JAMA Ophthalmol 2013; DOI:10.1001/.jamainternmed.2013.4575. Available at: http://archopht.jamanetwork.com/journal.aspx.

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