Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye thickens and becomes cloudy, blurring vision. The most common cause of cataracts is aging.
To investigate, researchers asked more than 27,000 people older than 40 to fill out dietary surveys between 1993 and 1999, then monitored the participants' medical records between 2008 and 2009 to see if they developed cataracts. Almost 1,500 had cataracts during the follow-up period.
The highest risk was seen among the heaviest meat-eaters - those who consumed more than 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of meat daily.
Moderate meat eaters were only slightly less likely to develop cataracts, whereas fish eaters' risk was 15 percent lower than that of the heavy meat eaters.
However, the greatest reduction in risk was seen among vegetarians and vegans. Vegetarians had a 30 percent lower risk than heavy meat eaters, while vegans were 40 percent less likely to develop cataracts.
Researchers say further studies are needed, as this study does not prove that eating meat promotes cataracts. It could be due to the fact that a vegetarian diet, plentiful in antioxidant-rich vegetables, is the reason why meat-free diets are protective. A vegetarian diet may also simply be a sign of other healthy behaviors that contribute to a reduced risk.
Smoking, diabetes, and exposure to bright sunlight are also linked to an increased risk for cataracts.
The findings were reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
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