There’s a reason your mom spent years reminding you to eat your vegetables. A teenage boy, who subsisted on Pringles, French fries, processed pork and white bread for years, went blind due to his extremely poor diet, according to a case study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
At 14-years-old, the teen, who was considered a “fussy eater,” told his family practitioner that he was feeling tired. While tests revealed he was anemic and had low vitamin B12 levels, his doctor didn’t notice the teen’s severe lack of nutrition — likely because the adolescent had “no visible signs of malnutrition,” according to ScienceDaily. He also had a normal BMI and height. The teen was given vitamin B12 shots, told to eat a healthy diet, and was sent on his way.
A year later, the teen returned to the doctor’s office with hearing loss and vision problems, but doctors couldn’t pinpoint the exact cause. His vision problems got progressively worse. By 17 years old, he was suffering from blindness.
Researchers at The University of Bristol believe the teen’s junk food diet led to nutritional optic neuropathy — a condition caused by a lack of nutrients, which impairs the normal functioning of nerve fibers and leads to optic nerve dysfunction.
“Nutritional optic neuropathy is usually caused by a deficiency of B-complex vitamins (thiamine, B12, etc.),” Randy McLaughlin, an optometrist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s usually seen in alcoholics, who are malnourished. This condition is somewhat rare, but not totally uncommon.” The condition is painless and progresses gradually.
When caught early, nutritional optic neuropathy is reversible — mainly by ramping up on folic acid, vitamin B complex, and protein. “It can be reversed with better nutrition,” notes McLaughlin, “However, improvement is seen on a case by case basis.” If left untreated, the resulting blindness can become permanent.
For the teen, by the time he got a proper diagnosis and after years of extremely poor eating, the damage to his vision was permanent.
The study’s lead author, Denize Atan, PhD, says the case is an example of why physicians can’t only rely on BMI readings to determine whether a patient is consuming a healthy diet. "This case highlights the impact of diet on visual and physical health, and the fact that calorie intake and BMI are not reliable indicators of nutritional status," Atan, consultant senior lecturer in ophthalmology at Bristol Medical School and clinical lead for neuro-ophthalmology at Bristol Eye Hospital, told ScienceDaily.
The study’s researchers recommend that, just like physicians ask about smoking and alcohol intake, dietary history should be part of any routine clinical examination.
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