Unhealthy diet linked to vision loss later in life


A new study spanning almost 2 decades has found a link between an unhealthy diet and vision loss in old age. Should we be more careful about what we eat?

A solid body of research has shown that a diet high in red meat, fried foods, high-fat dairy products, processed meats and refined grains is bad for the heart and linked to the development of cancer.

However, few people consider the impact of diet on their eyesight.

A new study, now appearing in the British Journal of Ophthalmologyfound a link between a diet high in unhealthy foods and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD is a condition that affects the retina with age, blurring central vision. Central vision helps people see objects clearly and perform daily activities such as reading and driving.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States, approximately 1.8 million people aged 40 and over are living with AMD, and another 7.3 million have a disease called drusen, which usually predates AMD.

The CDC also explains that “AMD is the leading cause of permanent impairment in reading and fine or near vision in people age 65 and older.”

Now the new study – which was the first to look at eating habits and the development of AMD over time – has found an association between an unhealthy diet and AMD.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Amy Millen, of the University at Buffalo in New York, said Medical News Today“Most people understand that diet influences the risk of cardiovascular disease and the risk [of] obesity; however, I’m not sure the public is considering whether or not diet influences a person’s risk [of] vision loss later in life.

Although research has shown links between certain foods and nutrients and AMD — for example, some studies have suggested that high-dose antioxidants may slow progression – there has been less research on eating habits as a whole.

Additionally, studies that have looked at eating habits have focused on the risk of late stage — that is, when the disease becomes sight-threatening — rather than early and late stages of the disease. .

“We wanted to examine how the overall pattern of a person’s diet can predict the later development of AMD, both in the early and late stages of the disease,” said Dr Millen.

The study examined the development of early and late AMD among participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, which examined arterial health over 18 years (1987-1995).

Using data on 66 different types of food, the researchers identified two diets: one they dubbed “cautious” or healthy, and the other they dubbed “Western,” which included high consumption of “processed and red meat, fried foods, dessert, eggs, refined grains, high-fat dairy products and sugary drinks.

Although the researchers found no link between early AMD and dietary habits, they found that the incidence of late AMD was three times higher in people with Western dietary habits.

“What we observed in this study is that people who did not have AMD or early AMD at the start of our study and who reported frequent drinking [unhealthful] food, were more likely to develop advanced vision-threatening disease about 18 years later,” says Dr. Millen.

Early-stage AMD has no symptoms, so a person may not know they have it. Also, while not everyone develops late-stage AMD, for those who do, treatment can be expensive and invasive.

There are two forms of advanced AMD. One is called wet AMD, or neovascular AMD, which medical professionals tend to treat by injecting antivascular growth factors.

The other is called dry AMD, or geographic atrophy, which occurs when photoreceptor cells die without neovascularization. There is no effective treatment for this form of AMD.

“We would like the public to realize that food is important to their vision,” Millen said.

The take-home clinical message is that dietary intake likely makes a difference in determining central vision loss later in life. If a person has early AMD, it is in their best interest to eat the foods we have identified as part of the Western diet in moderation.

Dr. Amy Millen


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