A diet of junk food, rich in saturated fat and sugar, causes the appearance of serious damage to the retina.
A clinical case recently published in the journal of the American College of Physicians reports abnormally early vision loss in a young Briton aged year. Examination by an ophthalmologist revealed optic neuropathy (damage to the optic nerve) which was correlated with severe deficiencies in several nutrients, including vitamin B , copper and selenium.
Investigation revealed that the teenager had been several years a “picky eater” who ate exclusively French fries, crisps, white bread, slices of ham and sausages. It is very likely that the severe deficiency of several nutrients caused by this type of exclusive intake of processed foods, in particular the lack of vitamin B essential to the integrity of the nervous system, is responsible for this optical impairment.
Moreover, taking supplements to correct these deficiencies stabilized the young man’s residual vision. But without succeeding in reversing the damage inflicted on the optic nerve.
First symptom: metabolic syndrome
Such a rapid and devastating impact of junk food is exceptionally rare. It nevertheless illustrates how unhealthy the overconsumption of ultra-processed processed foods can be. It is well established that junk food plays a major role in the development of several serious metabolic disorders. Including obesity, insulin resistance, hypertension and dyslipidemias. A disorder of blood lipid levels that accelerates atherosclerosis. Collectively, these abnormalities constitute what is called the metabolic syndrome. A condition that greatly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.
AMD: 35% of over 45 years affected
Metabolic syndrome has also been reported to be associated with an increased risk of eye disease. Including age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in industrialized countries. With up to 29% of people aged 75 years and over who are affected by this disease.
As the name suggests, AMD is a disease that affects the macula. It is a small structure (5 mm in diameter) located in the center of the retina. It is very rich in photoreceptors, hyperspecialized cells that capture light. It therefore plays an essential role in the perception of details and colors.
During macular degeneration, these cells gradually cease to function. There is then gradual deterioration of vision. We can count: difficulty reading or seeing from a distance, visual distortions (straight lines that become curved), difficulty distinguishing colors and, ultimately, the appearance of a dark spot in the center of vision.
Junk food: damage to the retina, announcing AMD
To examine how junk food and metabolic syndrome could accelerate this macular degeneration, researchers from the Mayo Clinic submitted two groups of animal models to a normal diet or junk food (high in saturated fat, cholesterol and fructose) which causes the appearance of a metabolic syndrome.
After 9 months, the retinas Animals from both groups were removed and analyzed by electron microscopy to identify alterations typical of AMD. They observed variations in the thickness of Bruch’s membrane (structure located under the retina) and the number of cells present in the retinal pigment epithelium. They observed that in animals that had been fed excess fat and sugar and developed metabolic syndrome. The retina exhibited thickening in several places of Bruch’s membrane. As well as a notable loss of cells in the retinal epithelium.
Junk food associated with AMD
These alterations in the retina are commonly seen during the development of AMD in humans. It therefore seems that the metabolic disturbances associated with junk food contribute to the development of this disease.
Harrison R et al. Blindness caused by a junk food diet. Ann. Intern. Med. 2019; 171: 859 – 861.
Bahadoran Z et al. Fast food pattern and cardiometabolic disorders: a review of current studies. Health Promot. Perspective. 2015; 5: 231 – 240.
Poh S et al. Metabolic syndrome and eye diseases. Diabetes Res. Clin. Pr. 2016: 100: 86 – 100.
Roddy GW et al . Diet mi- micking “fast food” causes structural changes to the retina relevant to age-related macular degeneration. Curr. Eye Res. 2020; 45: 726 – 732.
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