Media releases

January 24, 2002

Vitamins slow down vision loss

Recommended daily doses of anti-oxidants or multivitamins slow the progress retinal lesions - a key cause of vision loss - according to the highly regarded international medical review body, the Cochrane Collaboration.

The treatment is one of the more interesting findings to emerge from the latest quarterly updates of the Cochrane Consumer Network databank of global medical research and reviews.

Other findings provide an answer for unexplained belly pain in children, that water aerobics provides relief from pregnancy back pain, that herbal cures provide relief for enlarged prostate, lower doses of fluticasone control asthma, and acupuncture as a temporary relief for tennis elbow.

The consumer arm of the Collaboration, the Cochrane Consumer Network is a not-for-profit organisation devoted to providing consumers and health practitioners with the latest in evidence-based medical research on a wide range of medical conditions, medicines, drugs, surgery, alternate therapies and lifestyle and dietary changes, to mention but a few.

Under an agreement between the Network and Australia's largest private health fund, Medibank Private, members of the public can access this information via the health fund's website. The address is

Commenting on the use of vitamins in the treatment of retinal lesions - more commonly referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) - Cochrane Consumer international convenor, Hilda Bastian, says the condition is the most common cause of vision loss in industrialised countries.

"About 30 per cent of people over the age of 75 having the beginnings of AMD which is caused by a lifetime of light and oxygen on the retina.

"One of the by-products of oxygen - free radicals - can damage cells in the retina and according to local and US trials, it is antioxidants like vitamins C, E and zinc that can de-activate these free radicals."

Another new Cochrane review provides help for unexplained and regularly occurring belly pain in children which often results in vomiting, headaches and sore limbs concurrent with the stomach pain.

Ms Bastian says doctors often prescribe drugs or herbs for the condition even though most believe the problem is psychological.

"However, there are some doctors who disagree and believe the condition is really a kind of 'abdominal migraine', food allergy, or irritable bowel syndrome

"To support this view, Cochrane reviewers have now uncovered a trial which diagnose abdominal migraine when a child has a pale face and family history of migraine. The reviewers have also found the drug recommended for the condition does work but is expensive and has side effects.

"However, another trial on peppermint oil capsules for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome in children is about to be reviewed by the same group so hopefully this will provide another alternative treatment," says Ms Bastian.

A big step forward in the treatment of back pain in pregnant women comes from trials showing that water aerobics (aquanatal classes) once a week for 20 weeks results in less time off work. Trials also show that acupuncture and group physiotherapy helped some women get some relief.

The use of herbal medicines in the relief of enlarged prostates - which can result in urination or bowel problems - has become more common with over 90 per cent of medications in Germany and Austria, half of those in Italy and an increasing number in other locations.

The latest Cochrane review shows that an extract from the bark of the African prune tree - pygeum africanum - which has been used in Europe since 1969 is well-tolerated, cheaper than most prescription medicines and provides moderate relief for urinary problems caused by an enlarged prostrate.

Another interesting finding involves reduced dosages of fluticasone (a new inhaled corticosteriod) in the treatment of asthma.

Says Ms Bastian: "Because fluticasone is stronger than older corticosteriods such as beclomethasone and budesonide, when taken at the same dose as these medications, it seems to cause more side-effects.

"A new Cochrane finding suggests that trying a half-dose of fluticasone will not reduce the effectiveness of the drug in controlling asthma and may even improve airway capacity.

"Going to a half-dose of fluticasone could lower the amount of oral steroid drugs someone with asthma needs to take."

Finally what may come as some relief to sufferers of tennis elbow (or 'rowing elbow') comes the news that Cochrane reviewers have found that acupuncture may provide short-term relief from the problem.

Medibank Private managing director, Mark Burrowes, says being privy to evidence-based health information provides health consumers with useful information to assist in their making more informed decisions about their health.

"Being better informed will assist patients to ask pertinent questions and discuss the most relevant issues with their doctors," he says.

However, Mr Burrowes cautions that Medibank Private does not to interfere with the role of doctors as primary health information providers.

Back to top