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Poor lifestyle increases risk of sight loss regardless of genetic predisposition

Eye health experts today marked National Eye Health Week (21 – 27 September) with a warning that unhealthy lifestyles are fuelling an alarming increase in avoidable sight loss as a new study* published in the journal Ophthalmology reveals lifestyle factors increase the risk of sight loss regardless of a person’s genetic make-up.

The research, led by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, used healthy lifestyle scores based on diet, exercise patterns and smoking to assess a person’s risk of suffering Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) – the UK’s leading cause of blindness**.

Results of the six-year study reveal the odds for AMD associated with having both poor lifestyle scores and a high genetic predisposition to the disease was three times greater compared with people with healthy lifestyles and a high genetic predisposition whilst a healthy lifestyle alone was shown to cut your risk of suffering the condition by more than a fifth.

Smoking was found to pose the biggest modifiable risk to sight loss as the study found smokers who carry high risk genetic alleles and have smoked at least one packet of cigarettes for at least seven years and have poor exercise patterns and poor diets were four times more likely to have AMD than people who did not have genetic risk factors, ate a healthy diet, and got 10 hours/week of light exercise or eight hours of moderate activity.

Commenting on the report David Cartwright, optometrist and Chair of National Eye Health Week said: “Half of all sight loss is avoidable yet forecasters predict the number of people living with sight loss in the UK will double to four million by 2050 and 1 in 6 of Britons will become blind or partially sighted by the age of 65. These figures are shocking when you consider that having a regular sight to identify issues early, including leafy greens and fish in your diet, being more active and quitting smoking could significantly reduce your risk of sight loss, even if you have a genetic risk of eye disease.”

David continues: “Over the next seven days National Eye Health Week will seek to inspire people to make small lifestyle changes that could make a big difference to their future eye health.”

National Eye Health Week’s six simple sight savers

1. Quit smoking. Smokers have a significantly greater risk of sight loss than non-smokers.

Toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage the delicate surface and the internal structure of the eye. This can lead to an increased risk of many eye conditions including AMD; nuclear cataracts; thyroid eye disease; dry eye and poor colour vision.

2. Eat right for good sight. Most of us have no idea that what we eat can affect how well we see, however, eye-friendly nutrients found in many fruit and vegetables and fatty acids derived from fish, nuts and oils can all help protect your sight.

Vitamins B and E can help protect against cataracts whilst Omega-3 fish oils help maintain healthy blood vessels inside the eye.

3. Watch your weight. More than half of all British adults are overweight however maintaining a healthy weight helps preserve macula pigment density, which in turn, helps protect the retina against the breakdown of cells and the onset of AMD.

Damage to blood vessels in the eye caused by excess body weight has also been linked to glaucoma.

4. Get fit. Aerobic exercise can help increase oxygen supplies to the optic nerve and lower any pressure that builds up in the eye.

Reducing intraocular ‘eye’ pressure can help control conditions such as glaucoma and ocular hypertension.

5. Cover up. Exposure to UV light increases your risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration.

According to the World Health Organisation UV damage is the biggest modifiable risk factor of cataract development.

Always wear sunglasses when the UV index rises above three and check your sunglasses filter AT LEAST 99 per cent of UVA and UVB light. Look out for a CE or British Standard or UV 400 mark when choosing your sunglasses as this indicates they provide adequate UV protection.

6. Be screen smart. On average we spend a staggering 35 hours a week staring at a computer screen so it’s no surprise that 90 per cent of us say we experience screen fatigue – tired or irritated eyes, blurred vision, headaches and poor colour perception.

Avoid eye strain by using the 20-20-20 rule, especially if you’re using a computer for long periods of time. Look 20 feet in front of you every 20 minutes for 20 seconds.

And, don’t forget to book a sight test during National Eye Health Week if you haven’t had one in the last two years.


* Joint Associations of Diet, Lifestyle, and Genes with Age-Related Macular Degeneration, Kristin J. Meyers et al. Ophthalmology journal, Sept 2015

** There are currently 600,000 people in the UK affected by AMD. (Source: Macular Society)


Published : 21 September 2015