One key characteristic of the Western diet is its emphasis on trans and saturated fat. Both these components, along with high cholesterol, have been shown to contribute to the degeneration of the retina in the eyes over time. According to recent studies, people who adhere to high-fat diets may also be at higher risk for the leading cause of vision loss later in life; age-related macular degeneration.
The findings of the study suggested that diets heavy in red meat and fatty foods could spur a leading cause of vision loss in seniors.
The key observation of the study was that people who ate a more typically Western diet were three times more likely to have age-macular degeneration in later life.
The study author Amy Millen said at the time: “What you eat seems to be important to your vision, and to whether or not you have vision loss later in life.
“People know that diet influences cardiovascular risk and the risk of obesity, but the public may not know that diet can affect vision loss.”
The study, published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology included approximately 1,300 people, involved 117 who had early age-related macular degeneration and 27 who had the late stages of the condition.
All participants completed a survey about their diets twice annually to measure the quality of their food intake.
Foods consumed were sorted into 29 different categories by the scientists.
They found that overall, the participants who followed a more Western diet were much more likely to develop late-stage age-related macular degeneration.
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This type of diet includes red and processed meats, fats such as margarine and butter, high-fat dairy and fried foods.
One factor these foods have in common is their inflammatory effect, which hampers vascular health over time.
Due to the observational structure of the study, however, it was unable to confirm a causative link between the western diet and vision loss.
Nonetheless, the findings did not come as a surprise to other experts who had previously suspected that such an association existed.
Doctor Avnish Deobhakta, an ophthalmologist at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai in New York City explained that the eyes are a sentinel for the rest of the body.
The expert added: “In the tiny blood vessels of the eyes, even small changes that you would not otherwise notice in other organs, you will notice in the eyes.”
Though switching diets can be difficult, supplementing unhealthy food with healthier alternatives can have significant effects on eye health.
What is age-related macular degeneration?
Age-related macular degeneration is a common condition that paves the way for a loss of the middle part of a person’s vision.
The NHS says it typically starts to affect people in their 40s and 60s, making everyday activities a struggle.
With appropriate treatment, many patients can reduce their risk of significant vision loss.
Though the condition does cause complete blindness it can severely impair vision, thus robbing a person’s freedom to read and drive.
The condition starts when the macula becomes damaged deposits known as drusen start growing in that part of the eyes.
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