New study finds food eaten by millions can cause vision loss – ‘unlikely to be restored’
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Diet is an overlooked cause of vision loss. It’s overlooked in part because there is a limited understanding of the role diet plays in vision decline. Now, a new study led by researchers from Flinders University, Australia, has found that eating undercooked or raw meat can increase the risk of vision loss.
How? The new analysis has revealed Toxoplasma gondii – a parasite closely associated with cats – is behind retinal scarring in one in 150 Australians.
“Retinal scarring is often caused by inflammation and can sometimes lead to a retinal detachment,” explained Giles Edmonds, Specsavers clinical services director, who was not involved in the study.
He continued: “Retinal scars aren’t easy to remove which means that any vision lost is unlikely to be restored so can remain obstructed or distorted.”
According to Mr Edmonds, eating raw or undercooked meat can cause toxoplasmosis.
Indeed, researchers have now discovered that toxoplasmosis can also cause retinal scarring through ocular toxoplasmosis.
“This is linked to the Toxoplasma parasite which is passed on to livestock before then being consumed by meat eaters,” explained Mr Edmonds.
“If meat isn’t properly cooked it means that these parasites aren’t killed and are still present in the food we’re eating.”
What the Australian study found
Study senior author Professor Justine Smith, Strategic Professor in Eye & Vision Health at Flinders University and her team analysed retina photographs of over 5000 people living in the Busselton area in Western Australia, previously collected to evaluate the prevalence of glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration for a long-term healthy ageing study.
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Three specialised ophthalmologists, including Professor Smith, assessed the scans for toxoplasmic retinochoroiditis, with positive cases confirmed with antibody blood tests.
“Among the 5000 people, we found eight participants with blood test-confirmed toxoplasmic retinal scars. Add to that about three-quarters of the retinal lesions would be in a position not visible in these particular photographs, we were able to estimate the prevalence of ocular toxoplasmosis to be one per 149 persons,” Professor Smith said.
The professor continued: “While there is no cure or vaccine, the symptoms of toxoplasmosis vary depending on the age, health and genetics of the infected individual. Many people are asymptomatic, but the most common disease that we see in the clinic is retinal inflammation and scarring known as ocular toxoplasmosis.
“Studies around the world show that 30 percent to 50 percent of the global population is infected with Toxoplasma, but despite knowing that, what we didn’t know was how common the related eye disease was.”
The work claims to represent the first effort to quantify the rate of ocular toxoplasmosis in Australia, with the findings indicating the condition can be considered common.
With previous research showing the infection can lead to reduced vision in more than 50 percent of eyes and even blindness, the authors say it is important for people to understand the risk factors of toxoplasmosis and ways to avoid it.
“While people are often familiar with pregnant women needing to avoid cat litter trays, we also need everyone to know that preparation of meat is an important risk factor,” Professor Smith said.
It follows previous research by Professor Smith, which highlighted a high prevalence of Toxoplasma in Australian lamb sold in supermarkets.
The professor said: “Add to that that it’s now becoming more common to prepare meat in and out of restaurants to be purposefully undercooked or raw, then the likelihood of people becoming infected with Toxoplasma increases.
“We need people to be aware this disease exists, so they can make informed decisions about how they prepare and eat their meat. The parasite can be killed easily by cooking the meat to an internal temperature of 66ºC (or medium) or by freezing it prior to cooking.”
How to respond
“If you have any concerns, you should always see your optometrist,” says Mr Edmonds.
For more information or to request an appointment at your local store, visit www.specsavers.co.uk.
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