Lead in water pipes may cause cataracts, say US scientists

Lead in drinking water pipes could increase the risk of cataracts, it has emerged.
Researchers claim a build-up of lead in the body over the years from older plumbing systems could help trigger the eye disorder.

U.S. scientists working on the Normative Ageing Study in Boston checked lead levels in 795 men with an average age of 69. Cataracts were found in 122 of them.

They discovered that men in the top fifth of the lead level range were almost three times more likely to have a cataract than those in the bottom fifth.

The team, who published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association, said: ‘Results suggest that cumulative lead exposure is a risk factor for cataracts. Reduction of lead exposure could help decrease the global burden of cataracts.’

Cataracts cause the eye lens to cloud over, leading to impaired vision or even blindness. Threequarters of people aged over 85 have a cataract bad enough to affect their sight, with women more likely to be affected than men.

Anita Lightstone, head of eye health at the Royal National Institute for the Blind, said: ‘We would not wish people to be unduly alarmed as in a large number of cases cataracts can be removed with an operation and good vision can be restored.’

Another American study – published yesterday in the Journal of Nutrition – suggests eating dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, can help prevent cataracts.