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The Eyes Have It
July 5, 2011
A new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology reports an increased risk of developing cataract in patients with celiac disease. Why? One theory is vitamin deficiencies. According to the researchers from Sweden, vitamin deficiencies are prevalent in celiac disease, even after treatment with the gluten-free diet, and are associated with cataract formation. (A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye.)
Upon reading this, I wanted to throw up my arms in frustration. Most of the time I enjoy covering the current research on celiac disease--but this one hit me as just too much. Celiac disease is linked to cancers, other autoimmune diseases, heart disease, infertility, osteoporosis, depression. When will it stop? I had thought–-hoped--the eyes might be spared.
It’s true that signs and symptoms of celiac disease can affect just about any part of the body--from tingling in the toes to tooth enamel defects. But, enough already!
Dismayed, I consulted an expert on eyes, ophthalmologist David Larned, MD—who happens to be my father. I called Dad while sitting by the pool over July 4th weekend.
“Dad,” I asked, “Do you often see cataracts in celiac patients?”
“Hmmm, no,” he said.
Unsure of how many celiac patients he routinely sees, I rephrased. “Have you ever heard of a link between celiac and cataract risk?”
“Never heard of a connection.”
“What about the theory that nutritional deficiencies could contribute to cataracts?” I probed.
“Most cataracts are attributed to aging,” he explained. “Half of all 80 year olds have had cataracts or surgery to remove them. These patients with celiac disease weren’t getting cataracts much earlier, like at 50, were they?”
“No, most study participants with celiac disease were diagnosed at about age 75,” I said. Then my dad listened to me describe the rest of the study.
“Wear your sunglasses,” he concluded. “Don’t worry about it.”
Thanks, Dad. I feel better. Yes, researchers have made another link. But the study doesn’t show celiac causes cataracts, and the risk was what researchers might call “modest.” Nothing to get alarmed about.