In a new study, researchers found that diets heavy in red meat and fatty foods could help spur a leading cause of vision loss in older Americans.
They found that people who ate more typical Western diets were three times more likely to develop an eye condition that damages central vision—late-stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
The research was conducted by a team at the University at Buffalo and elsewhere.
AMD occurs when a part of the eye called the macula is damaged.
Sometimes this happens when deposits called drusen to grow on the macula. Or it can occur when new blood vessels keep forming and leak blood, scarring the macula.
Genetics and smoking are known risk factors for age-related macular degeneration.
In the study, the team examined 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 AMD.
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, and fried foods.
The findings show what people eat seems to be important to their vision, and to whether or not they have vision loss later in life.
The team says people know that diet influences cardiovascular risk and the risk of obesity, but the public may not know that diet can affect vision loss.
Diet is one method people might be able to modify the risk of vision loss from AMD, especially if they have a family history of the disease.
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 lead author of the study is Amy Millen, an associate professor in the department of epidemiology and environmental health.
The study is published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.
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