Could diet be the cause of vision loss in seniors?

It’s possible that diets heavy in red meat and fatty foods may help spur a leading cause of vision loss in older Americans, according to new research.

A recent study found that people who ate a more typical Western diet were three times more likely to develop late-stage age-related macular degeneration.

“What you eat seems to be important to your vision, and whether or not you have vision loss later in life,” said study lead author Amy Millen. She’s an associate professor in the department of epidemiology and environmental health at the University at Buffalo’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, in Buffalo, N.Y.

“People know that diet influences cardiovascular risk and the risk of obesity, but the public may not know that diet can affect vision loss,” Millen said.

Age-related macular degeneration occurs when a part of the eye called the macula is damaged. Sometimes this happens when deposits called drusen grow on the macula. Or it can occur when new blood vessels continue to form and leak blood, scarring the macula, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Genetics and smoking are known risk factors for age-related macular degeneration.

This study included almost 1,300 people from a nationally representative sample. Most did not have macular degeneration. There were 117 who had early AMD, and 27 had late.

All of the study participants completed surveys about their diets twice during the 18-year study.

The researchers sorted the foods into 29 categories to measure the quality of the diet.

They found that people who ate a more Western diet were much more likely to develop late-stage AMD. Foods linked to a higher risk included:

  • Red and processed meats
  • Fats, such as margarine and butter
  • High-fat dairy
  • Fried foods.

In short the observational study showed a diet high in fatty foods, processed meats and refined grains makes the more severe form of macular degeneration more likely.

It is not known if you can make up for a lifetime of eating poorly. But a healthy diet — full of vegetables, especially dark, leafy greens, and fruits and fatty fish — contains important nutrients for eye health, including lutein and zeaxanthin.

The study was published in the December issue of the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

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