Here we go again, blaming obesity and malnutrition for everything, even eye disease! The sad truth is that it is to blame. Our food choices have such a tremendous effect on our eye health.
Let’s have a look at some of the ways that our nutritional status can affect our eyes:
The obesity epidemic
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The obesity epidemic is leading to severe long-term consequences on eye health through the following different mechanisms:
1. Obesity leads to an increased risk of diabetes, which is associated with diabetic retinopathy and an increased risk of cataract.
2. Obesity is associated with an increased risk of hypertension and atherosclerosis, which leads to increased risk of retinal vascular disease
3. Obesity may increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration, as it is associated with relatively low plasma lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations and higher levels of inflammation.
4. Obesity is also associated with an increased risk of cataract among individuals without diabetes, although the exact mechanism has not yet been determined.
Vitamin A deficiency
Nutritional blindness is a term used to describe xerophthalmia, or dry eyes and keratomalacia, or corneal necrosis, which is due to vitamin A deficiency.
Nutritional blindness is the leading cause of blindness among children worldwide.
Young children and women of reproductive age are at the highest risk of vitamin A deficiency, and programs are currently focused on reaching these two high risk groups, as the blindness, morbidity, and mortality from the vitamin A deficiency disorders are largely preventable.
Also, vitamin A supplementation has been reported to modify the clinical response of two eye conditions, namely, sorsby fundus dystrophy and retinitis pigmentosa.
Folate, Vitamin B6 and B12
1. Hyperhomocysteinemia is a major risk factor for retinal vascular disease.
It can largely be treated or prevented by improving folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 intake through dietary modification, fortification or supplementation.
2. Nutritional amblyopia is optic neuropathy with bilateral visual loss, blind spots, and dyschromatopsia due to dietary deficiency.
The condition is generally reversible if treated early with proper diet and vitamins, but the prognosis for visual recovery is worse with longstanding disease. Associated findings include signs and symptoms characteristic of vitamin B deficiencies including thiamin, niacin, folate, vitamin B12 and/or riboflavin.
3. Riboflavin deficiency has also been linked with cataract.
1. Acrodermatitis enteropathica, an inborn error of zinc metabolism, is characterized by compromised immunity, skin and ocular findings.
2. Zinc deficiency occurs in Crohn’s disease and among individuals receiving total parenteral nutrition with inadequate zinc and since the retina and choroid of the eyes contain the highest concentrations of zinc of any tissue in the body, this can adversely affect these structures.
3. There is a causal link between zinc status and age-related macular degeneration.
Vitamin C is important to eye health because of its role in protecting the proteins of the lens from oxidation, in serving as a free radical scavenger in the retina and in promoting wound healing in the cornea.
Scurvy, the classic syndrome of vitamin C deficiency, includes vascular abnormalities of the conjunctiva, dry eyes, and hemorrhages of the conjunctiva, orbit, anterior chamber and retina.
Vitamin C may become increasingly important to ocular health with demographic changes such as increasing life span and a larger aging population, and with the continued depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer.
Nutrition plays an important role in the causation of the pro-inflammatory state, which is common in older adults.
This is because antioxidant nutrients such as the plant polyphenols, carotenoids, tocopherols, ascorbate, tocopherols, selenium and other antioxidants are involved in maintaining redox balance.
Lack of these nutrients may increase oxidative stress and inflammation.
This inflammation has been associated with some eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, cataract and diabetic retinopathy.
Essential fatty acids:
linoleic acid and α-linolenic acid, are precursors for long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) and for prostaglandins and thromboxanes.
The brain, retina and other neural tissues are especially rich in LC-PUFAs, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA).
These essential fatty acids can’t be synthesized in the body and must be obtained from the diet.
Early infancy is a critical time when visual and brain development of infants are susceptible to the effects of inadequate stores or deficient intake of essential fatty acids.
Supplemental DHA has a beneficial effect on visual acuity in the first months of life, especially for preterm infants.
Nutritional modification or dietary supplementation can also be used as a therapeutic approach for some eye diseases that are due to inborn errors of metabolism.
Isn’t it fascinating how, as much as we keep going around in circles, we always come back to nutrition as a major factor in maintaining the health of all our body systems, including our eyes.
It’s time to take control of your health and abstain from putting anything but natural foods, full of nutrients, into your body!
Connect with Expert Dr. Hala Youssef