People who battle obesity often dread going to the doctor's office, as the pounds on the scale can make you feel embarrassed. If you struggle with weight problems, you may find that even your eye doctor has concerns about your weight. Along with a number of other potential health problems, being overweight can contribute to eye problems. But knowing how vision problems are related to obesity and understanding the importance of scheduling routine eye exams can help deter problems before the damage becomes irreversible.
What Research Studies Say
Some studies suggest that there may be connection between obesity and certain age-related vision problems, including glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration. Although research does not clearly show to what degree obesity impacts eye health or how strong a correlation there is, eye doctors are beginning to take note that being overweight can put the eyes at risk.
According to the findings of a study conducted by two Israeli ophthalmologists, there is a higher rate of eye disease when a person's Body Mass Index (BMI) falls within the range of clinical obesity. Although the connection is not yet fully understood, eye diseases also seem to progress more quickly in individuals who are overweight.
Other studies suggest that physiological changes that occur in the body when individuals are obese may contribute to the development of age-related macular degeneration. Changes in a person's lipoprotein profile and a decrease in the amount of the potent antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin circulating to the eye are risk factors for the eye disease.
In trying to understand the connection between obesity and vision problems, researchers look at several variables. For instance, obese individuals are at increased risk of conditions such as high blood pressure, vascular disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Each of these chronic conditions can put the eyes at risk.
Being overweight puts additional pressure on blood vessels in the body, and the vessels in the eyes are no exception. Strained or blocked vessels mean that there is less oxygen and blood flow to the eyes – factors that can lead to vision problems.
Obesity also may put individuals at an increased risk of high intraocular pressure in the eyes, increasing the risk of glaucoma. Glaucoma is an eye disease that damages the optic nerve, causing vision loss or blindness. But regular glaucoma screenings lead to early detection of the disease, which can minimize vision loss.
The Role Diet Plays
Diet can have an impact on the development and progression of cataracts. Because obese individuals generally don't eat as healthfully as they should, they are at risk for vision problems, including cataracts.
Research suggests that diets low in vitamins B2 and B3 may increase the risk of cataracts. But some studies indicate that some of the B vitamins – particularly riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3) – may help prevent cataracts. Additionally, the antioxidant vitamins C and E may help prevent cataracts from developing.
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