Diet may be to blame for vision disorder

Sunday, September 17, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:59 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A study funded by a USDA research service has identified a possible link between eating a “high glycemic-index” diet and developing macular degeneration, an age-related eye disorder that severely impairs central vision.

The macular degeneration study, which observed the diets of 526 women from ages 53 to 73 over 10 years, found that patients who consumed the most high glycemic-index foods were more than twice as likely to show precursors for the disease, compared to those who ate more foods low on the index.

High glycemic-index foods contain carbohydrates that quickly increase the blood glucose level. Skim milk, apples and oatmeal are all low on the index, while watermelon, French fries and white bagels rank high.

Lee Ann Barrett, an independent optometrist, said she sees a high number of patients from the Columbia area who have the disease.

Barrett said macular degeneration has no known cure. “We just monitor it,” she said. “It’s something we watch forever.”

According to Barrett, quitting smoking, limiting sun exposure with good-quality sunglasses and taking vitamins formulated to combat macular degeneration can all help. She also recommends that her patients consume fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants.

Barrett said women are more likely to develop macular degeneration than men, but she said that may be because women generally live longer. The disease is also more prominent in Caucasians and people with high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease, she said.

The optometrist recommended consulting an eye care specialist if vision becomes impaired. “Normally, what patients will see is, of course, a reduction in their acuity of vision, or sometimes lines will appear crooked,” she said.

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