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Epidemiology and Biostatistics
November 2000

Vitamin Supplement Use and Incident Cataracts in a Population-Based Study

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences (Drs Mares-Perlman and Klein and Mss Fisher and Trabulsi), and Preventive Medicine (Dr Palta), University of Wisconsin–Madison Medical School, Madison; Kraft Foods, Inc, Glenview, Ill (Dr Lyle); Forest Laboratories, Inc, New York, NY (Mr Brady); and the Department of Health and Sport Science, University of Richmond, Richmond, Va (Dr VandenLangenberg).

Arch Ophthalmol. 2000;118(11):1556-1563. doi:10.1001/archopht.118.11.1556

Objective  To determine the relationship between vitamin supplement use and the 5-year incidence of nuclear, cortical, and posterior subcapsular cataract in the Beaver Dam Eye Study cohort.

Design  The 5-year incidence of cataract, determined from slitlamp (nuclear cataract) and retroillumination (cortical and posterior subcapsular cataract) photographs, was assessed in a population-based cohort of persons participating in baseline (1988-1990) and follow-up (1993-1995) examinations. Detailed data regarding the type, dosage, and duration of supplement use were obtained by in-person interviews at follow-up.

Participants  Residents of Beaver Dam, Wis, aged 43 to 86 years, were identified by private census. Of the 3684 participants in both baseline and follow-up examinations, 3089 were eligible for incident cataract analysis in the present study.

Results  Compared with nonusers, the 5-year risk for any cataract was 60% lower among persons who, at follow-up, reported the use of multivitamins or any supplement containing vitamin C or E for more than 10 years. Taking multivitamins for this duration lowered the risk for nuclear and cortical cataracts but not for posterior subcapsular cataracts (odds ratios [95% confidence intervals] = 0.6 [0.4-0.9], 0.4 [0.2-0.8], and 0.9 [0.5-1.9], respectively). Use of supplements for shorter periods was not associated with reduced risk for cataract. Measured differences in lifestyle between supplement users and nonusers did not influence these associations, nor did variations in diet as measured in a random subsample.

Conclusions  These data add to a body of evidence suggesting lower risk for cataract among users of vitamin supplements and stronger associations with long-term use. However, the specific nutrients that are responsible cannot be ascertained at this time, and unmeasured lifestyle differences between supplement users and nonusers may explain these results.