We evaluated nutritional risk factors for cataract in 660 subjects enrolled in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging. As a part of a regular cycle of visits, nuclear and cortical lens photographs were taken over a 2-year period. Measurements of plasma antioxidants (beta-carotene, ascorbic acid, and alpha-tocopherol) were obtained in this cohort as part of the study protocol up to 4 years before lens photographs were taken. We found that plasma beta-carotene and ascorbic acid levels were not associated with risk of nuclear or cortical lens opacities. Higher levels of plasma alpha-tocopherol, however, were associated with a reduced risk of nuclear opacity [odds ratio (OR) for highest quartile vs lowest quartile = 0.52, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.27-0.98; OR for middle two quartiles vs lowest quartile = 0.55, 95% CI = 0.30-0.98], after adjusting for age, sex, and history of diabetes. Middle levels of alpha-tocopherol were associated with a reduced risk of cortical opacity (OR = 0.57, 95% CI = 0.32-1.02), but no such association was observed for high levels of alpha-tocopherol. We constructed an index of overall antioxidant status, which indicated that higher levels of plasma antioxidants were not associated with risk of nuclear or cortical opacities.
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