Patients who regularly take drugs that lower cholesterol and control type 2 diabetes may have a lower risk of the degenerative eye disease associated with age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, a new study finds.

AMD affects central vision and the ability to see fine details. It is the leading cause of blindness among seniors in high-income countries. Up to 11 million people in the United States have the disease, a number that is expected to nearly double by 2050.

In the current study, researchers pooled the results of 14 population- and hospital-based studies involving more than 38,000 people aged 50 and older across nine European countries. Participants were taking at least one of the following drug types: statins, insulin, anti-inflammatories (excluding steroids) and Levodopa, a frontline drug used to alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The prevalence of AMD across the studies totaled more than 9,000 cases, with 951 cases of advanced disease.

Drugs used to lower cholesterol were associated with a 15% lower prevalence of any type of AMD, and drugs to control diabetes were associated with 22% lower prevalence, the researchers reported. No such associations were found for any of the other types of drug or for advanced AMD. 

The results do not prove causality, the investigators noted. But they suggest a key role for metabolic processes in the development of AMD, offering potential new avenues for treatment, they concluded.

The study was published in the BMJ.

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