Obesity Increases Risk of Eye Diseases & Blindness

The Bad News – Research

Obesity is already recognized as one of the leading preventable causes of death from heart disease and diabetes, but it's also a key factor in sight loss, according to a report from the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) in Britain. RNIB eye health consultant Barbara McLaughlan said, "With the huge increase in obesity that we have seen in recent years, many people are now jeopardizing their sight in later life."

The report highlights the increased risk obese people (those who have a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or above) have of developing three major causes of sight loss:

Double the risk of age-related macular degeneration, or ARMD (a condition affecting the retina, which is the leading cause of sight loss).
Double the risk of cataracts (a clouding of the eye lens responsible for one in four cases of sight loss in people over 75).
Ten times the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which often leads to diabetic retinopathy (a progressive blurring of vision developed by 60 percent of type 2 diabetes sufferers).

In addition to what the British researchers discovered, a Harvard study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology found that if you have already been diagnosed with ARMD, being overweight or obese could increase the risk that the eye disease will worsen.

They found that those who were overweight or obese were more than twice as likely than the thinner patients to have their macular degeneration progress to the advanced stage of the disease during the four-and-a-half year course of the study.

Approximately 30 percent of adults over age 75 have some degree of macular degeneration. In ARMD, the macula (a tiny area of the retina that allows clear central vision) deteriorates over time, making it increasingly difficult to focus on objects directly. This affects a person's ability to do crucial tasks, such as reading and driving.

AMD is a disease that affects the retina, the sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that transmits images to the brain. Advanced AMD can destroy the detailed, central vision people need to read, drive, and enjoy daily life.

Risk factors for ARMD include smoking, high levels of unhealthy forms of fat and low levels of antioxidants.

The Good News – Research

On the bright side, the same lifestyle choices that help maintain a healthy weight also appear to keep your eyes healthy as well.

• The Harvard researchers found that the patients who performed vigorous exercise (such as brisk walking or jogging) at least three times a week had a 25 percent reduction in the risk that their disease would worsen.
• A separate large-scale and long-term study published in The Archives of Ophthalmology also found that adults who consumed three more servings of fruit a day had a 36 percent decreased risk of developing ARMD.
• New research from Tufts University found that participants whose diets included higher levels of protective nutrients and of low-GI foods were at lowest risk for both early and advanced AMD. The AMD-protective nutrients included vitamins C and E, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) as well as low-GI foods. A food's GI value is based on how fast its carbohydrates raise the body's blood sugar levels; low GI foods have less impact on blood sugar fluctuations.

Maybe not coincidentally, all these "good news" factors for protection against eye disease are also factors in preventing obesity. So if you are concerned about your weight and the increased risk of eye disease, exercising consistently and eating fruits, high nutrient and low GI foods are the first steps to take.

Specialized supplementation can also help you maintain a healthy weight and protect your vision. Vision Support contains 17 natural vitamins, herbs and other powerful nutrients shown to support healthy eyesight. (See The A-Z's of Eye Health .) Our Weight Management Program provides you with all the key ingredients you need to achieve optimal weight, including specialized nutrients that increase metabolism and maximize fat burning, and a unique blend of soluble fibers to help control your appetite.