Drinking Coffee Linked to Lower Retinopathy Risk in Type 2


People with type 2 diabetes — especially those under age 65 — may be at lower risk for diabetic retinopathy (eye disease) if they drink more coffee, according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Diabetic retinopathy develops when elevated blood glucose levels damage the tiny blood vessels in the eye, which can lead to blood vessel breakage and other problems that may reduce your vision or threaten it altogether. While there are some drug treatments for certain forms of retinopathy, it isn’t always possible to reverse vision loss once it occurs due to small blood vessel damage and abnormal blood vessel growth. That’s why blood glucose control is especially important for people who show the earliest signs or retinopathy — and why it’s important to get your vision examined regularly according to your doctor’s recommendations. Getting an eye exam for retinopathy may be easier than it ever has been, thanks to newer programs like CVS offering retinopathy screening through the company’s MinuteClinic division. In addition to optimizing your blood glucose control, there are steps that may reduce your retinopathy risk — such as losing weight through bariatric surgery if you qualify for the procedure. Taking aspirin or another anticoagulant drug has also been linked to a lower risk for diabetic retinopathy, although it isn’t clear if these drugs should be recommended specifically to help prevent retinopathy. (Talk to your doctor before you start any new drug or supplement regimen.)

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For the latest study, researchers used data from a national health database in South Korea to examine the relationship between coffee consumption and retinopathy in 1,350 people with type 2 diabetes. These participants all took a detailed health and nutrition survey, which included reporting how much coffee they consumed on a regular basis. Participants were also directly examined for retinopathy.

When it came to coffee habits, the participants were divided into four groups — almost no coffee consumption, less than one cup per day, one cup per day, or two or more cups per day. When looking at the relationship between coffee consumption and retinopathy status, the researchers adjusted for several different factors known to affect the risk for retinopathy — including age, sex, education level, occupation, income, smoking status, alcohol intake, body-mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account), physical activity, diabetes duration, A1C level (a measure of long-term blood glucose control), and health conditions such as high blood pressure and high blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides).

Higher coffee consumption linked to lower risk of diabetic retinopathy

Overall, 20.0% of participants were found to have diabetic retinopathy. Out of those with retinopathy, 87.8% had non-proliferative retinopathy (without abnormal blood vessel growth), while 12.2% had proliferative retinopathy (with abnormal blood vessel growth, which can threaten vision). The researchers found that for each category of increasing coffee consumption, participants were less likely to have diabetic retinopathy, including proliferative retinopathy. This trend was only statistically significant in participants younger than 65 years old — meaning it was strong enough that chance alone couldn’t explain it — but it was also seen somewhat in older participants.

The researchers concluded that coffee consumption might reduce the risk for diabetic retinopathy in younger people with type 2 diabetes. But more studies are needed, they wrote, to compare any link between coffee consumption and diabetic retinopathy over time, rather than based on a single eye exam.

Want to learn more about keeping your eyes healthy with diabetes? Read “Diabetic Eye Exams: What to Know,” “Eating for Better Vision and Healthy Eyes,” and “Keeping Your Eyes Healthy” and watch “Diabetes and Your Eyes.”

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