Statins may lower risk of diabetic retinopathy

Certain statin medications, which are commonly used to treat high cholesterol levels, may limit the risk of a person with type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes of losing their eyesight to retinopathy, according to a new study from University of Georgia researchers.

The findings are important because there is currently no effective preventative treatment to stop retinopathy, which is the leading cause of blindness in adults. After suffering from diabetes for 10 to 15 years, most patients will begin to show signs of the degenerative eye condition. Surgery can sometimes correct the problem, but it can be invasive and expensive.

However, the researchers reported in the journal Diabetologia that the statin atorvastatin prevents one of the main causes of retinopathy. They tested the medication on mice that were genetically programmed to have the symptoms of diabetes.

Test subjects that received statins were significantly less likely to develop retinopathy. The researchers found that this is because the medication appeared to block the development of free radicals that cause damage to nerves in the retina.

Persistently high blood sugar levels are known to result in elevated levels of free radicals. These particles attack proteins that normally protect nerves in the eye. This eventually leads to blindness.

However, the researchers found that the statin medication blocked these free radicals from reaching the eye. This prevented any damage to the nerves in the retina.

The researchers said that the findings are exciting for several reasons. First, they may give hope to diabetics who are at risk for developing retinopathy when previously there was no way to prevent the condition. Furthermore, the medication that prevents vision loss is relatively common, inexpensive and safe.