Antioxidant nutrient intake and diabetic retinopathy: the San Luis Valley Diabetes Study

Ophthalmology. 1998 Dec;105(12):2264-70. doi: 10.1016/S0161-6420(98)91227-1.


Objective: Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a major cause of visual impairment and blindness in adults. Antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamins C and E and beta-carotene, may be protective of some eye disorders, such as cataract and age-related macular degeneration, but a relationship between these nutrients and DR has yet to be defined. The purpose of this study was to examine the relation between dietary and supplement intakes of vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene and the risk of DR.

Design: Both cross-sectional and longitudinal data were collected from participants in the San Luis Valley Diabetes Study, including non-Hispanic white and Hispanic adults in southern Colorado.

Participants: A total of 387 participants with type 2 diabetes completed at least 1 complete retinal examination and 24-hour dietary recall (including vitamin supplement use).

Main outcome measures: Type 2 diabetes was defined according to World Health Organization criteria. DR was assessed by retinal photographs, using the Airlie House criteria to classify DR as none, background, preproliferative, or proliferative. Data for both eyes, from up to three clinic visits per participant, were used for analysis. Ordinal logistic regression analysis was used, taking advantage of multiple clinic visits by individual participants and observations from both eyes, to assess the risk for increased DR severity over time as a function of changes in intake of vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. Six categories of intake for each nutrient (first to fourth quintiles and ninth and tenth deciles) were considered to ascertain any potential threshold effect. Analyses accounted for age, duration of diabetes, insulin use, ethnicity, glycated hemoglobin, hypertension, gender, and caloric intake.

Results: An increase over time in vitamin C intake from the first to ninth deciles was associated with a risk for increased severity of DR (odds ratio = 2.21, P = 0.01), although excess risk was not observed for the tenth decile or the second through fourth quintiles compared to the first quintile. Increased intake of vitamin E was associated with increased severity of DR among those not taking insulin (odds ratios = 2.69, 2.59, 3.33, 5.65, 3.79; P < 0.02, for an increase over time from the first to the second through fourth quintiles and ninth and tenth deciles, respectively). Among those taking insulin, increased intake of beta-carotene was associated with a risk for severity of DR (odds ratio = 3.31, P = 0.003, and 2.99, P = 0.002, respectively, for the ninth and tenth deciles compared to the first quintile).

Conclusions: No protective effect was observed between antioxidant nutrients and DR. Depending on insulin use, there appeared to be a potential for deleterious effects of nutrient antioxidants. Further research is needed to confirm associations of nutrient antioxidant intake and DR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antioxidants / administration & dosage*
  • Ascorbic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • California / epidemiology
  • Colorado / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / drug therapy
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / epidemiology*
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / physiopathology
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin / therapeutic use
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Vitamin E / administration & dosage*
  • beta Carotene / administration & dosage*


  • Antioxidants
  • Insulin
  • beta Carotene
  • Vitamin E
  • Ascorbic Acid