Statin drugs potentially harm the eyes

August 13, 2012

The retina is a key part of your eye. It is a thin layer of tissue on the inside back wall of the eye. The retina contains millions of light-sensitive cells and various nerve cells that detect and organize visual information. Your retina sends this information to the brain through your optic nerve where the picture is decoded into what you are looking at.

Retinal diseases can affect the area of the retina that serves your central vision. This is known as the macula and also the fovea which is at the center of the macula can be affected leading to disastrous consequences for your vision. The macula is located in the back of the eye roughly in the center of the retina. It is a small and highly sensitive part of the retina responsible for detailed central vision such as reading or recognizing a face.

The macula also serves as a shield for the retina, filtering out radiation and unstable blue light. To act as a shield the macular tissue must be of normal thickness. Thinning of the macula occurs with age. This allows more light to penetrate into the retina damaging it and with continued exposure preventing it from properly healing. Research shows that particular supplements and food ingredients restore the natural thickness to the macular tissue and this is directly related to restoring and improving visual functions.

Researchers from the University of Georgia performed experiments to gauge the effects of statin drugs on the eyes anatomy, eye health, and eye-friendly carotenoid levels (Lutein and Zeaxanthin).

In the first study108 healthy young people had their blood tested. It was found that the level of the good cholesterol known as HDL was related to the level of Lutein and Zeaxanthin in the blood stream (HDL carries these carotenoids to the retina). The total level of cholesterol was also tied into the level of carotenoids. Total cholesterol and HDL levels if adequate were tied into healthy macular tissue meaning that if total cholesterol or HDL is too low the eye suffers.

In the second study of forty participants half who were using statins and half who weren’t it was found that the longer a person used a statin the poorer the health of the macular tissue; it thins in relation to continuous use of statins.

Commentary by Jerry Hickey, R.Ph., Scientific Director of InVite Health; This is an important finding and although not a large study it lends credence to a recent report of statin drugs increasing the risk of cataract formation. A recent review of already published research shows that Lutein and Zeaxanthin, often referred to as macular carotenoids because they are central to macular and retinal health, are tied into a greater than forty-percent decreased risk of developing a cataract or clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye; a major cause of vision loss and also a risk for hip fracture (poor vision due to cataracts leads to increased rates of falling and hip fractures in the elderly). Is the connection between statin use and cataract formation due to a decrease in Lutein and Zeaxanthin levels and would supplementing with these nutrients remove the increased risk; future research will clarify these points but a good guess is yes to both questions?