It's an Eyesore: Supplement Didn't Stop Cataracts

Selenium and vitamin E supplements did not prevent cataracts in men

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Your eyes may be the crystal-clear windows to your soul, but cataracts can make them cloudy — and selenium likely doesn't keep them clear.

A new study found that selenium and vitamin E supplements did not prevent cataracts in men. Patients can take other, proven steps to prevent cataracts, however.

"This study provides additional evidence that nutritional supplements have failed to show a benefit in preventing cataracts," said Christopher Quinn, OD, president at Omni Eye Services in Iselin, New Jersey, and a member of the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

"Patients can reduce their risk of developing cataracts by reducing UV light exposure with proper sunglasses, stopping smoking, and controlling blood sugar if diabetic," said Dr. Quinn, who was not involved in this study.

The authors of this study wrote that "long-term daily supplemental use of vitamin E has no material impact on cataract incidence. The data also exclude any large beneficial effect on cataract for long-term supplemental use of selenium, with or without vitamin E, although a smaller but potentially important beneficial effect could not be ruled out.”

This study was the first to look specifically at selenium — a soil mineral that people need in very small amounts. Selenium had never been tested in a randomized trial.

Nutrition affects all parts of the body, including the eyes. Selenium and vitamin E are both found in the lens of the eye.

Past research suggested that people who ate diets high in these nutrients were less likely to develop cataracts. However, past research showed few benefits for vitamin E.

William G. Christen, ScD, of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, led a research team that examined the specific role each nutrient played in cataract formation.

Dr. Christen and team collected data on just over 11,000 men who were at least 50 years old. The study group was divided into four groups. The first group took only selenium. The second group took selenium and vitamin E. The third group took only vitamin E. One group received a placebo, or fake pill.

These researchers found no significant differences in the groups as far as cataracts were concerned. Although the selenium-only group had the lowest number of cataracts cases, Dr. Christen and team felt that the differences were not statistically significant. They concluded that neither vitamin E nor selenium were likely to have major effects on cataract development in men.

Cataracts are common in older people. As people age, the lens of the eye — the clear part in the center of the pupil — becomes cloudy. The eyes change slowly, and many people may not notice any symptoms until their vision becomes blurry.

Cataracts are usually treated with surgery. Untreated cataracts can lead to blindness.

Patients can prevent cataracts by wearing sunglasses outdoors, eating a healthy diet and not smoking. See an eye care professional at least every two years for an eye exam.

This study was published Jan. 8 in JAMA Ophthalmology.

The Public Health Service Cooperative Agreement, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine funded this research. Study author Dr. J. Michael Gaziano received funding from Pfizer related to vitamins.

Review Date: 
January 7, 2015
Last Updated:
March 12, 2015