AMD: when poor nutrition makes you blind

A junk food type diet, high in saturated fat and sugar, causes serious damage to the retina.

A clinical case recently published in the Journal of the American College of Physicians reports abnormally early vision loss in a 17-year-old Briton. Examination by an ophthalmologist revealed optic neuropathy (optic nerve damage) which was correlated with severe deficiencies in several nutrients, including vitamin B12, copper and selenium.

The investigation revealed that the teenager had for several years been a “fussy eater” who ate exclusively on fries, crisps, white bread, slices of ham and sausages. It is very likely that the serious deficiency in several nutrients caused by this type of exclusive intake in industrial foods, in particular the lack of vitamin B12 essential to the integrity of the nervous system, is responsible for this optical impairment.

Moreover, taking supplements to correct these deficiencies helped to stabilize the young man’s residual vision. But without succeeding in reversing the damage inflicted on the optic nerve.

First symptom: metabolic syndrome

Such a rapid and devastating impact from junk food is exceptionally rare. Nevertheless, it illustrates how the overconsumption of ultra-processed industrial foods can be bad for your health. It is well established that junk food plays a major role in the development of several serious metabolic disorders. Including obesity, insulin resistance, hypertension and dyslipidemia. A disorder of blood lipid levels that accelerates atherosclerosis. Collectively, these abnormalities constitute what is called the metabolic syndrome. A condition that greatly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

AMD: 35% of people over 75 affected

Metabolic syndrome has also been reported to be associated with an increased risk of eye disease. Including age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in industrialized countries. With up to 35% of people aged 75 and over being affected by this condition.
As its name suggests, AMD is a disease that affects the macula. It is a small structure (5 mm in diameter) located in the center of the retina. It is very rich in photoreceptors, the hyperspecialized cells that capture light. It therefore plays an essential role in the perception of details and colors.

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During macular degeneration, these cells gradually stop working. There is then a gradual deterioration of vision. There are: difficulty reading or seeing from a distance, visual distortions (straight lines that become curved), difficulty distinguishing colors and, ultimately, the appearance of a dark spot in the center of vision.

Junk food: damage to the retina, announcing AMD

To examine how junk food and metabolic syndrome could accelerate this macular degeneration, researchers at the Mayo Clinic subjected two groups of animal models to a normal or junk food-like diet (high in saturated fat, cholesterol and fructose) which causes the appearance of a metabolic syndrome.

After 9 months, the retinas of the animals of the two groups were removed and analyzed by electron microscopy to identify alterations typical of AMD. They observed variations in the thickness of Bruch’s membrane (structure located under the retina) and the number of cells present in the retinal pigment epithelium. They observed that animals that had been fed excess fat and sugar developed metabolic syndrome. The retina showed thickening at several sites of Bruch’s membrane. As well as a noticeable loss of cells in the retinal epithelium.

Junk food associated with AMD

These alterations in the retina are frequently observed during the development of AMD in humans. It therefore seems that the metabolic disorders associated with junk food contribute to the development of this disease.


Harrison R et al. Blindness caused by a junk food diet. Ann. Intern. Med. 2019; 171: 859-861.
Bahadoran Z et al. Fast food pattern and cardiometabolic disorders: a review of current studies. Health Promot. Prospect. 2015; 5: 231–240.
Poh S et al. Metabolic syndrome and eye diseases. Diabetes Res. Clin. Prof. 2016:113:86-100.
Roddy GW et al. Diet mi- micking “fast food” causes structural changes to the retina relevant to age-related macular degeneration. Curr. Eye Res. 2020; 45: 726-732.

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