Heavy Cigarette Smoking Increases Risk of Macular Degeneration

CAMBRIDGE, England, Dec. 20, 2005 - Smoking can increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration, according to investigators. Long-term heavy smokers have a sharply increased risk -- between 2.5- and 3.5-fold -- of losing vision from age-related macular degeneration, according to medical geneticist John R.W. Yates, Ph.D., of the University of Cambridge.

Smoking Infographic

The study "provides strong support for a causal relation between smoking and age-related macular degeneration," Dr. Yates and colleagues concluded in a study published in the January issue of the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

Editor's Note: Some research suggests that smokers should not supplement with betacarotene as it may increase chances for lung cancer.

Secondhand Smoking and Macular Degeneration

There is mounting evidence indicating that cigarettes are not only bad for smokers but those around them. Another study from Cambridge University says secondhand smoke can cause vision problems. Secondhand smoke nearly doubles the risk of developing age related macular degeneration and the risk is much higher for smokers. Researchers found smoking a pack a day for 40 years tripled their risk of vision loss.

Inflammation and Risk of Developing Age-related Macular Degeneration

A third 2005 study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology reports a positive association between the systemic inflammatory markers CRP and Il-6 and the rate of progression to advanced AMD. Smoking and obesity were significantly related to elevated levels of both CRP and Il-6.

Recent data suggests that connective tissue that stores fat is a multifunctional organ rather than simply a passive storage site for excess energy. This tissue secretes a variety of factors that exert multiple effects at both the local and the systemic level. These secretions include protein families, fatty acids, prostaglandins and cytokines, including Interleukin-6 (IL-6), which is now recognized as a biomarker for inflammation, along with C-reactive protein (CRP).

This study also suggests that anti-inflammatory agents may play an important role in preventing AMD.