age-related blindness

Image by Community Eye Health

I have come to believe that one of the constants in this world is that research always comes up with new findings to negate what it had said earlier. In school every year I would be taught that what I was told in the previous grade was not the gospel truth and that there were exceptions. Same is the case with research findings in all fields including the area of connection between health and meat.

One such research findings published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, suggests a strong link between diet and Age related  (AMD) which was earlier thought to be just age related and counted family history and smoking among its risk factors.

The macular is the central and the most sensitive section of the retina and allows us to see fine detail for reading and writing, as well as our ability to see colour. AMD usually develops after the age of 50 and is caused by the growth of new blood vessels under the centre of the retina. These blood vessels leak fluid, causing scar tissue to form and destroying vision in the centre of the eye, initially as blurring, then as fading colours. For many sufferers this process can take several years. But in extreme cases, it can take place within a couple of months. Although rarely resulting in complete blindness, AMD is still the leading cause of poor-sightedness and blindness among the over 60s and affects about half a million people in the UK.

The finding is that people who consume too much red meat are at a greater risk of blindness. The latest evidence by researchers at the Melbourne University, Australia, suggests curtailing red meat intake could help some people ward off disease.

Dr Elaine Chong, from the Centre for Eye Research Australia based at the University of Melbourne, and colleagues studied 6,700 people aged between 58 and 69 between 1990 and 1994. They documented how many had early signs of AMD and matched the results up with dietary habits gleaned from food questionnaires – how much meat they ate, of what type, and how often.

Over the follow up period (the study ended between 2003 and 2006), the researchers took digital macular photographs of the retina in both eyes of each participant and evaluated them for signs of AMD.

They then did statistical tests to find out the links between any signs of AMD and meat consumption, while adjusting for age, smoking, and other potential confounders.

The results showed that:

  • At follow up, 1,680 participants had early stage AMD and 77 had late stage AMD.
  • Higher red meat intake was positively associated with early AMD (i.e. more red meat linked to higher chance of having early AMD).
  • The odds ratio for eating meat ten times a week or more versus eating it less than 5 times a week was a significant 1.47 (i.e. eating meat 10 times a week gave a person 47 per cent higher risk of AMD than if they ate it less than 5 times a week).
  • Conversely, eating chicken 3.5 times a week or more was linked to 57 per cent lower risk of late AMD compared to eating it less than 1.5 times a week. Researchers have shown that those who consume 10 portions or more of red meat a week – such as roast beef, meatballs or lamb chops – were 50 per cent more likely to be suffering the early symptoms of AMD than those who ate it less than five times a week.

I can hear the meat eater as saying – fine that means I can still eat meat – all that I need to do is reduce red meat and increase the consumption of the white variety!!

The researchers concluded that different types of meat appear to have different effects on the risk of developing AMD and helping people change their dietary habits could be a way to help them lower risk of developing AMD in old age.

So to the meat eaters, the advice going round now is, “Don’t give up on red meat if you enjoy it. Instead, eat a healthy mix of red meat, chicken, and fish, and you may literally see good results.” Did I not predict this??

Also it is stated that since the study is the first of its kind, it needs what the authors call “confirmatory data from other studies.” Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo PhD, RD, a nutrition counselor in Roseville, CA, and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association says, “More study is needed to quantify the risk. Multiple studies have shown that a diet rich in several nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, zeaxanthin, selenium, and zinc, can help maintain healthy eyesight.”

Last June, the same researcher found that fish eaten twice per week was associated with a 24 to 33 percent reduction in early and late AMD,” points out Dr. Gazzaniga-Moloo. “This study provides even more support for a varied diet, with a healthy mix of plant-based foods rich in antioxidants, as well as mixing up your protein choices to include fish, poultry, and red meat in moderation.”

As for red meat, it will take more studies to clarify how it affects eye health. On the one hand, it’s an excellent source of zinc, a nutrient very important for eye health. On the other hand, red meat, and smoked red meat in particular, contains chemical compounds called nitrosamines, which the study authors speculate may be behind the link between red meat and AMD.

So dear friends, as I said the health plank to promote vegetarianism is not going to work. There are too many ifs and buts and a meat eater will always be able to find a combination of meat diet to stave off the vegetarian lobby. Also it would be possible for them to come up with enough research data on equally long list of vegetarian food items that may be harmful if taken is larger quantities. One example being tomatoes – Over eating of this delicious, succulent vegetable can lead to stones and arthritis – so are we going to give up on tomatoes. NO WAY.

The key is moderation.

So let us find some other weapon to promote vegetarian living…

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