**Lindsay’s Note: This is a guest post on the relationship between obesity and eye disease. I am not a doctor and neither is the author of this guest post so please consult your doctor before making any health based decisions.
A paper recently published by researchers in the Survey of Ophthalmology may have you reconsidering your eating habits. They reported strong links between obesity and a number of different serious eye conditions, including glaucoma, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy. All of these conditions can cause blindness, and only cataracts can actually be cured.
When it comes to cataracts, the results presented in the report were frightening. For example, one study cited in the report showed that for every 2-unit increase in body mass index (BMI), the chance of developing cataracts goes up 12%. This means if a 5’ 10” man with a healthy weight of 160 pounds puts on 40 pounds, then his risk of getting a cataract goes up by nearly 35%. Researchers think that this may be because fat cells secrete a protein called leptin, which causes free radicals to accumulate and damage the lens in the eye. (**Lindsay’s Note: This is interesting and I know all about leptin since I struggled with high levels of this fat producing hormone before I began my first whole30 diet in 2013).
The evidence for the link between glaucoma and obesity is somewhat less strong, but obesity has been shown to increase pressure inside the eye. Since high pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for developing glaucoma, it is more than reasonable to assume that being overweight could lead to the condition – although this link has not been definitively proven.
When it comes to AMD, the researchers pointed out that a link between this and obesity had been observed as far back as 1996, and several large studies since that time have confirmed the initial finding. It is not completely clear why obesity causes damage to the retina – the primary symptom of AMD – but one possibility is that free radicals may again play a role, causing abnormal blood vessel growth.
This link between obesity and eye disease is all the more worrying because of the number of people in the US who are carrying far too much weight. In fact, a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control reported the astounding fact that 35.7% of adults in the United States are clinically obese, and 17% of kids are as well. Unless as a nation we start to get our weight under control, more and more people are going to become blind as they get older – assuming we don’t die of heart disease, stroke or cancer first.
The connection between eye disease and obesity also highlights just how important it is for overweight people to have their eyes checked regularly. This doesn’t have to be expensive – for example Stanton Optical offers free eye exams, and the optical store donates to local and national charity organizations as well. While things such as glaucoma and AMD can’t be reversed, their progress can be slowed using treatments such as laser therapy and drugs. These treatments are most effective in the early stages of disease, so the sooner disease is detected, the better the chance of preventing severe damage.