The leading cause of vision loss in older people

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3.4 million Americans aged 40 years and older are blind or visually impaired.

Other estimates of “vision problems” range as high as 21 million, and a total of 80 million Americans have potentially blinding eye diseases.

The major causes of vision loss are cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma.

In a study from the University at Buffalo, scientists 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).

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, researchers 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.

If you care about eye health, please read studies about how to keep your eyes healthy, and treatments of dry eye you need to know.

For more information about eye health, please see recent studies about how to protect your eyes from glaucoma, and results showing how vitamin B helps fight vision loss, brain cancer, and COVID-19.

The study was published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology and conducted by Amy Millen et al.

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