According to the results of a new study by the University at Buffalo, individuals who ate a Western diet
high in red and processed meat, fried food, refined grains and high-fat dairy were three times more likely to develop an eye condition that damages the retina and affects a person's central vision.This condition is called late-stage age-related macular degeneration
is an irreversible condition that affects a person's central vision, taking away their ability to drive, among other common daily activities.
Dr Shruti Dighe, who conducted the research as part of her master's in epidemiology at UB's School of Public Health and Health Professions told Thailand Medical
News, "Treatment for late, neovascular AMD
is invasive and expensive, and there is no treatment for geographic atrophy, the other form of late AMD
that also causes vision loss. It is in our best interest to catch this condition early and prevent development of late AMD
Dr Dighe who is now pursuing her Ph.D. in cancer sciences at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center added, “And that's why the finding that diet
plays a role in AMD
is so intriguing.”
The study revealed that a Western diet
, one defined as high in consumption of red and processed meat, fried food, refined grains and high-fat dairy, may be a risk factor for developing late AMD
. However, a Western diet
was not associated with development of early AMD
in the study, published this month in the British Journal of Ophthalmology
The researchers studied the occurrence of early and late AMD
over approximately 18 years of follow-up among participants of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. Dighe and colleagues used data on 66 different foods that participants self-reported consuming between 1987 and 1995 and identified two diet
patterns in this cohort ie Western diet
and what researchers commonly refer to as "prudent" or healthy diet
that best explained the greatest variation between diets
Dr Amy Millen, Ph.D., associate professor and associate chair of epidemiology and environmental health at UB and also the study senior author added, "What we observed in this study was that people who had no AMD
or early AMD
at the start of our study and reported frequently consuming unhealthy foods were more likely to develop vison-threatening, late stage disease approximately 18 years later.”
This American-based study is one of the first examining diet patterns and development of AMD
over time. The other studies were conducted in European cohorts.
Often, early AMD is asymptomatic, meaning that people often don't know that they have it. To catch it, a physician would have to review a photo of the person's retina, looking for pigmentary changes and development of drusen, or yellow deposits made up of lipids. With early AMD, there could be either atrophy or a buildup of new blood vessels in the part of the eye known as the macula.
Dr Dighe added, "When people start developing these changes they will begin to notice visual symptoms. Their vision will start diminishing. This is advanced or late stage AMD."
Fortunately not everyone who has early AMD progresses to the more debilitating late stage.
So far, most research has been conducted on specific nutrients such as high-dose antioxidants that seem to have a protective effect. But Dr Dighe explains, people consume a variety of foods and nutrients, not just one or two, and that's why looking at diet patterns helps tell more of the story.
Dr Millen added, "Our work provides additional evidence that that diet matter. From a public health standpoint, we can tell people that if you have early AMD, it is likely in your best interest to limit your intake of processed meat, fried food, refined grains and high-fat dairy to preserve your vision over time."
Reference : Shruti Dighe et al. Diet patterns and the incidence of age-related macular degeneration in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, British Journal of Ophthalmology (2019). DOI: 10.1136/bjophthalmol-2019-314813