|A new study revealed that years’ long of bad diet or extreme picky eating habits can lead to blindness / Photo by Irina Schmidt via 123RF|
Blindness is a condition that cannot be corrected with contact lenses or glasses. Glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and macular degeneration are some of the common causes of vision loss. But a new study revealed that years’ long of bad diet or extreme picky eating habits can lead to blindness as well.
Bad diet and vision loss
A team of researchers from the University of Bristol recently shared a case report in the academic journal Annals of Internal Medicine about a 14-year-old boy who was presented to a family practitioner because of his blindness. Although he took no medications and appeared physically well, he was considered a “fussy eater.” His blood tests showed that he had a low vitamin B12 level and was suffering from anemia. There was also no presence of the enzyme transglutaminase, which is responsible for fixing any damage in the body.
So, the boy was treated with vitamin B12 shots, wherein the injections were given intramuscularly to raise the levels of his B12 and reverse and prevent the deficiency. He was also advised on how he should improve his diet. This was due to the fact that the teen ate nothing but junk food, chips, and fries.
Nutritional optic neuropathy
The team highlighted the case as that of nutritional optic neuropathy or a “dysfunction of the optic nerve” necessary for vision. If the condition is diagnosed early, it can be reversible. However, if it goes untreated for years, it can lead to blindness because of the permanent damage to the nerve. The researchers said that the condition is less common in countries that have a good food supply. On the other hand, such is not the case in places where there is drought, war, malnutrition, and poverty.
Micronutrient deficiency as the culprit for optic nerve dysfunction
About 2 billion people in the world are affected by nutritional optic neuropathy, as pointed out by the team. This is particularly the case in middle- and low-income countries, where people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. The condition also exists in high-income nations, like the United Kingdom, because of micronutrient-deficiencies as well. Deficiencies in copper, magnesium, calcium, iron, vitamin B9 or folate, vitamin B6 or pyridoxine, vitamin B1, B2, and B3 are also known to cause optic nerve dysfunction.
Rhys Harrison and team concluded in their research that the blindness was caused by the teen’s junk food diet. When they investigated his case further, they found out that when he started secondary school, he was already consuming a diet of white bread, crisps, chips, and processed pork. At the time he was diagnosed with their family’s GP, he already had impaired vision.
Bristol Medical School’s consultant in ophthalmology Dr. Denize Atan, who is also the study’s lead author, said that people’s eyesight has an impact on the quality of their mental health, social interactions, employment, education, and life in general. The case of the 14-year-old boy highlights the effects of diet not only on our physical health but also on our visual health. This led the researchers to recommend that it should be a part of a routine clinical test or examination to know about the patient’s dietary history and not just ask them about their alcohol intake or whether or not they smoke. Doing so can help avoid delayed diagnosis of nutritional optic neuropathy and treat the case early to help the patient fully recover.
Not everybody, though, is convinced by the study. Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts’s Human Nutrition and Vision Laboratory’s director Allen Taylor said via American nonprofit media organization National Public Radio that the study is “intriguing.” He said that the study presented by the University of Bristol is only of one individual, which means that there is limited information from it. While he does not deny that there is a link between vision loss and poor diet, the symptoms don’t often develop at a young age but later in life. He pointed out their 2014 research, which linked poor diet and macular degeneration that usually happened after a person reaches 60 years of age.
Nevertheless, Taylor said that the study is a “wake-up call” to remind the public of the significance of good nutrition. He earned his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry at Rutgers University and he has been directing various research into the pathophysiology of age-related eye diseases. The Vision Research Laboratory in which he works has a mission to discover the mechanisms of aging in the eye and seek other means, like the nutritional aspect to delay age-related debilities.
|Nutritional optic neuropathy also exists in high-income nations like the UK because of micronutrient-deficiencies / Photo by Руслан Шугушев via 123RF|
The director went on to say that to lessen the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a person should subscribe to a diet that is rich in vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. He also recommended regularly eating seafood, tomatoes, and legumes. He added that refined carbohydrates found in sweets, crackers, and white bread end up damaging the proteins found in the cells of the eyes.