The Wisconsin researchers examined data from the Beaver Dam Eye Study, which followed 1,299 persons who were first examined between 1998 and 2000. In the five-year follow-up period 12.2 percent of the statin users developed nuclear cataracts, compared to 17.2 percent of people who weren't taking the drugs.
Because smoking and diabetes are known to increase the risk of nuclear cataracts, the researchers did a further analysis. That's where they discovered the 60 percent lower risk in nonsmokers without diabetes who took statins, Health Daily News reports.
The findings surprised researchers because several potential cholesterol-lowering drugs never made it to market after studies showed they caused cloudiness and other eye problems.
The current study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., was actually conducted to see if approved statin drugs might have similar, but previously unobserved, side effects.
The study's findings could have significant medical and financial consequences because more than half of Americans develop cataracts by age 80 and an estimated 1.4 million cataract surgeries are performed each year in this country, Reuters reports.
Previous studies have found that statins, which provide a powerful protective effect against heart disease and stroke because of their cholesterol-lowering ability, also protect against glaucoma, macular degeneration and several other medical problems.
In the new study, their effect is thought to result from their ability to destroy oxidants, which can damage a variety of tissues.
The subjects of the study were part of a larger group of 5,924 residents of Beaver Dam, Wis., whose visual health has been monitored since 1987.
No relationship was found between statin use and two less common forms of the eye condition, cortical and posterior subcapsular cataracts, according to Forbes.
Russian officials have repeatedly declared that Israeli aviation poses a threat to the Russian military in Syria.