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How a bad diet can end in blindness

A bad diet based on french fries made an English teenager go blind. The boy, whom we'll call Jasper, went to his family doctor at age 14 to ask him about his constant tiredness. Tests revealed that he suffered from anemia and that his vitamin B12 levels were very low. It was a fussy boy at lunchtime, but without health problems.

The GP prescribed injections of vitamin B12 and gave recommendations to improve his diet, but when he was 15 years old began to lose hearing and have vision problems. He went to an otolaryngologist and was examined by an ophthalmologist without finding any reason for these problems.

At 17, his vision worsened to the point of blindness. He was transferred to the ophthalmology department of the Bristol hospital, where he was received by a specialist in neuro-ophthalmology who diagnosed him with a optic neuropathy (damage to the optic nerve) and subsequent tests revealed that the cause was nutritional. He had several deficiencies at the micronutrient level, including low levels of vitamin B12 (he had long since stopped receiving injections of this vitamin), vitamin D, copper and selenium, as well as high levels of zinc. His bone mineral density was also very low, probably as a result of low levels of vitamin D.

Jasper confessed that he had been picky eater since elementary school and that I didn't eat some types of food. Every day he ate his portion of chips from the store fish and chips from his neighborhood, chopping bag potatoes, white bread, slices of ham and sausages throughout the day.


Despite receiving nutritional supplements to treat their deficiencies, their vision did not improve.

In our case study, published in the scientific journal Annals of Internal Medicine, we conclude that Jasper's diet based on junk food and the limited intake of vitamins and minerals resulted in appearance of a nutritional optic neuropathy: an optic nerve disorder essential for eyesight. It is a rare but serious medical complication due to several types of nutritional deficiencies.

We know that deficiencies in vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B9 (folate), vitamin B12 (cobalamin), iron, calcium, magnesium and copper cause neuropathy optics and they are easily misdiagnosed as other disorders If the doctor does not have data on the patient's nutritional history.

This disorder is reversible if detected early., but if left untreated it can lead to chronic structural damage to the optic nerve and even blindness, which happened in Jasper's case.

Proper nutrition

Nutritional deficiencies are very common and affect about 2 billion people worldwide. In low and middle income countries, poverty and poor diet are the main causes of micronutrient deficiencies. However, these types of deficiencies also exist in rich countries, such as the United Kingdom, where they are usually caused by malabsorption problems (digestive problems that interfere with the absorption of important nutrients in the stomach), drugs or poor diet, sometimes in combination with the consumption of alcohol or tobacco, or both.

That the cause is strictly nutritional is rare in developed countries, although Children who are fussy about food can continue to be so in adulthood and carry nutritional deficiencies. It should also be borne in mind that the latest fashions in food consumption can make cases of optic neuropathy more common. For example, the widespread consumption of junk food to the detriment of more nutritious foods and the increase in the popularity of veganism can lead to deficiencies in vitamin D and vitamin B12, since fish, meat, eggs and dairy are the main sources of these vitamins in food. Without taking nutritional supplements or fortified foods, strict veganism could lead to irreversible blindness.

Most of us are aware that there is a relationship between junk food consumption and cardiovascular health, obesity and cancer, but few people know that poor nutrition can have such a profound effect on eyesight.


  • Denize Atan. Consultant and Professor of Neurogenetics, Neuroinflammation and Neurophthalmology, University of Bristol.

This article has originally been published in The Conversation. You can read the original article. here.

Video: Scientists say poor diet made teen go blind (February 2020).

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