Anti-cholesterol and diabetes drugs may reduce the risk of eye disease

Anti-cholesterol and diabetes drugs may reduce the risk of eye disease
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Regularly taking anti-cholesterol and diabetes drugs may lessen the risk of degenerative eye disease associated with ageing, according to new research.

Findings from a pooled data analysis of the existing evidence have been published online in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

The results show that common anti-cholesterol and diabetes drugs can reduce the prevalence of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in European populations.

AMD is highly prevalent in Europe

AMD is the leading cause of severe visual impairment in the elderly in high-income countries. In Europe, 67 million people have some form of AMD and researchers estimate that rates of the condition will rise in the coming decades.

It is known that various genetic and environmental factors that can be associated with ageing can lead to AMD, yet it is still unclear how to best treat the condition or slow its progression. Previous research has suggested that anti-cholesterol and diabetes drugs can dampen inflammation, lessening the risk of AMD. However, these findings have been partly contradictory and based on small numbers of participants.

The researchers, therefore, pooled the results of 14 population-based and hospital-based studies, involving 38,694 people from across Europe.

The study was completed by the European Eye Epidemiology (E3) consortium, a collaborative pan-European network, aiming to develop and analyse large, pooled datasets to improve the understanding of eye diseases and sight loss.

Anti-cholesterol and diabetes drugs shown to have positive effects

All participants were over the age of 50 and were taking some form of anti-cholesterol or diabetes drugs, including statins, insulin, and Levodopa, which is used to treat movement disorders.

In total, the researchers examined 9,332 cases. AMD prevalence ranged from 12% to 64.5% across the included studies. The prevalence of advanced (late) AMD ranged from 0.5% to 35.5%.

The analysis showed that drugs used to treat cholesterol and diabetes were associated with a 15% and 22% lower prevalence of any type of AMD respectively, after accounting for potentially influential factors. No associations were found between any other types of drugs and AMD. However, the researchers acknowledge that there were only a relatively small number of such cases.

This study is the first large, pooled data analysis of its kind to use individual-level data from various population-based and hospital-based studies.

“Yet, further longitudinal data are needed to confirm our findings, which are inherently limited by using cross-sectional data only and cannot infer causality,” wrote the authors.

The findings have led the research team to believe that metabolic processes have a key role in the development of AMD. This may offer potential new avenues for treatment and have implications for public health messaging.

“Our study suggests that regular intake of [lipid lowering] and antidiabetic drugs are associated with reduced prevalence of AMD in the general population. Given a potential interference of these drugs with pathophysiological pathways relevant in AMD, this may contribute to a better understanding of AMD aetiology,” concluded the researchers.


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