Eye Health

Updated 15 February 2016

Study links coeliac disease to cataract risk

People with celiac disease may have a slightly increased risk of cataracts, a new study suggests.

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People with coeliac disease may have a slightly increased risk of cataracts, a new study suggests.

In theory, the nutritional deficiencies often seen in coeliac disease could be to blame, said lead researcher Dr Kaziwe Mollazadegan, of Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden.

As reported online in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the researchers used data on nearly 29,000 Swedish adults with coeliac disease and up to five age- and sex-matched controls for each patient.

Over a decade, the researchers found, there were 1,159 cases of cataracts among people with coeliac disease - versus an expected 909 cases, based on the general population.

The study

They estimate that among people with coeliac disease, there would be 397 cases of cataracts for every 100,000 people each year, vs 311 cases in the general population.

Cataracts didn't develop any earlier in people with coeliac disease, however; they were typically diagnosed at age 75.

It's possible that coeliac disease itself is not the culprit, according to Dr Mollazadegan. Instead, coeliac and cataracts may share common risk factors, the researcher told Reuters Health in an email.

Autoimmune conditions other than coeliac disease have also been linked to cataracts, including type 1 diabetes. So there may be some underlying process, such as chronic body-wide inflammation, that contributes to cataracts, researchers said.

Nutrient deficiencies

On the other hand, people with coeliac disease often have nutrient deficiencies, even after their condition is diagnosed. And some studies have linked higher intakes of certain nutrients - like the antioxidants lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamin E - to a lower risk of cataracts.

But right now it's not clear, Dr Mollazadegan said, what specific deficiencies in celic disease might contribute to a long-term risk of cataracts.

For now, Mollazadegan suggested that people with coeliac be aware of the connection to cataracts and bring up any potential signs of the eye disease to their doctor.

In the US, about 2 million people have coeliac disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. Cataracts are much more common. It's estimated that half of Americans who live to age 80 will either have cataracts or have had surgery to treat them.  (Reuters Health)

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Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg and is currently practising at Tygerberg Academic Hospital in Cape Town. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

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