Can eating too many sweets impact your sight?
Let’s ask Dr. Jiwani, your local Annex optometrist…
Tis the season to indulge on sugary treats. Everywhere you look there are cookies and sweets providing temptation. Though sugar and its negative health effects have been in the spotlight over the past few years, discussions about the impact on our waistline and type II diabetes, did you know it can also affect your eyesight? That’s right, eating lots of sugary, starchy foods may make eyes more vulnerable to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), America’s top cause of vision loss, cause complications such as retinopathy in diabetics, and increase risks of developing cataracts and glaucoma.
How does eating a high sugar diet impact sight?
A carrot a day…
Remember when you were told to eat carrots for eye health? That’s because they are rich in beta-carotene and other antioxidants and a diet rich in antioxidants may prevent AMD. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, new studies reveal that carbohydrates that spike blood sugar quickly can cause eye health to deteriorate.
As outlined on webmd.com, nearly 4,100 U.S. adults aged 55-80 took part in the study. They completed dietary surveys and had their eyes checked for AMD. The researchers tracked AMD by eye, not participant, because some people may have had AMD in one eye but not the other. People with the diets highest on the glycemic index were the most likely to have advanced AMD in at least one eye. The researchers estimate that a fifth of the advanced AMD cases in their study might have been prevented by eating foods low on the glycemic index.
What other eye health conditions can develop as a result of a high sugar diet?
Retinopathy: Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of eye damage of people with diabetes. Elevated and uncontrolled blood sugar levels cause irreversible damage to the delicate blood vessels in the retina, causing visual impairment or blindness.
Cataracts: The lens within your eye allows your eye to focus light and images on your retina and transmits them to your brain. Cataracts cause a clouding of the usually clear lens, making it difficult for your eyes to focus light, resulting in blurred or glared vision. High blood sugars can lead to swelling and changes in the lens and may put you at a higher risk of developing cataracts.
Glaucoma: High blood sugars and insulin can cause the blood vessels in the eyes to narrow, creating a buildup of fluid that cannot drain properly. This buildup leads to excessive pressure inside the eye called glaucoma. Usually, there are no symptoms or pain as the pressure builds but, if left untreated, it can damage your optic nerve and the blood vessels causing peripheral vision loss and blindness. That’s why it’s important to come in for regular eye exams, so the pressure in your eyes can be tested. People with diabetes are nearly twice as likely to develop glaucoma as adults without diabetes.
Macular Degeneration: As discussed above, excessive blood sugar levels may make you more susceptible to Age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD occurs when the middle part of the retina (macula) deteriorates. The macula is responsible for providing clear, central vision for activities like reading and driving and can cause blurred vision, dimmed vision, or the wavy appearances of straight lines in those with AMD.
What can I do to protect my vision?
Eat, drink and be merry?
Try to eat foods lower on the glycemic index, meaning those foods that have less of an impact on blood sugar levels. Consider using xylitol, or stevia, or other sweeteners that don’t spike blood sugar and are healthier substitutes. Even coconut sugar, a popular sugar substitute is lower on the glycemic index and there are many recipes provided online where you can swap out regular sugar. Of course, even with sugar substitutes cookies are not a health food and the carbohydrate load may impact your blood sugar. We’re not suggesting you don’t indulge in the occasional sugary treat and we understand the holidays are often times when healthy habits fall by the wayside. Try to combat unhealthy choices with antioxidant rich ones (fruit and vegetables) and be sure to come in for regular eye exams, especially if you suspect you are at risk for developing any of the conditions that can occur as a result of a high sugar diet. Prevention is key to maintaining good eye health. After all there is nothing sweeter than looking around and enjoying the sights of the season.Questions or concerns about your eye health? Contact us, we’re here to help.