Cholesterol and diabetes drugs may lower risk of age-related degenerative eye disease

BONN, Germany — New research focusing on European populations finds regularly using drugs intended to either treat high cholesterol or control Type 2 diabetes may lower a person’s risk of degenerative eye disease associated with aging (AMD).

Conducted as part of the European Eye Epidemiology (E3) consortium, this project performed a pooled data analysis of all available relevant evidence. The results indicate a clear association between the common drugs and a lower prevalence of AMD (age-related macular degeneration) among Europeans.

The leading cause of severe visual impairment among older individuals in high-income countries, AMD is a major health concern on a global scale. In Europe alone, roughly 67 million live with the condition. Estimates project that new cases will rise considerably in the coming decades as average lifespans continue to increase.

AMD hinders central vision and lowers one’s capacity to see fine details. Doctors say that numerous genetic and environmental factors associated with aging can trigger AMD, but it still isn’t quite clear how the average adult can prevent it or slow its progression.

Prior research suggests drugs for lowering cholesterol, treating diabetes, and controlling inflammation may lower AMD risk, but those studies also found contradictory results and featured small numbers of participants. So, the new study combined findings from 14 population-based and hospital-based reviews. All of those projects encompassed people from all over Europe, including residents in France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

The European Eye Epidemiology (E3) consortium is a collaborative pan European network focusing on developing and analyzing large-pooled datasets to facilitate a better understanding of eye disease and sight loss.

Which drugs could benefit eye disease patients?

All included participants were over 50 years-old and taking at least one of the following types of drugs: cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins, diabetes-controlling drugs including insulin, inflammation-lowering medication excluding steroids, and Levodopa — which treats movement disorders resulting from neurodegenerative diseases.

Meanwhile, AMD prevalence ranged from 12 to 64.5 percent across all analyzed studies. Those projects featured 9,332 cases in total, with the prevalence of advanced (late stage) AMD ranging from 0.5 to 35.5 percent, 951 cases in total. Ultimately, the pooled analysis concluded that drugs for lowering cholesterol or controlling diabetes displayed a connection to a 15 and 22-percent lower prevalence of any type of AMD, after accounting for potentially influential factors.

There were no similar associations for any other drug types or for advanced AMD, although, researchers admit there was a relatively small number of such cases. This is the first large-pooled data analysis of its kind to make use of individual level data from different population-based and hospital-based studies, researchers add.

“Yet, further longitudinal data are needed to confirm our findings, which are inherently limited by using cross-sectional data only and cannot infer causality,” they caution in a media release.

Still, the findings indicate metabolic processes play a likely key role in the development of AMD. This revelation offers the possibility of new treatment avenues and holds potential implications for future public health messaging.

“Our study suggests that regular intake of [lipid lowering] and antidiabetic drugs is 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 etiology,” study authors conclude.

The findings appear in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

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