Updated: Sep 19, 2019
I'm not sure most health care professionals are doing a great job discussing the role of nutrition and the impact it has on the body.
Why don't doctors discuss diet with patients more often? I think there's three reasons.
Doctors aren't always experts in ways to use nutrition to optimize health. They are mainly experts in how nutrition deficiencies and how they cause disease.
It's hard to squeeze a nutrition discussion into the modern day, rushed office visit. With the demands placed on most doctors, it is sometimes difficult to squeeze in a conversation about anything.
Diet is personal. Lot's of patients don't feel all that comfortable sharing what they eat.
Recently, a story was published about a 17 year old boy who went blind from his poor eating habits.
This was a teenager who was reportedly a "picky eater" and lived exclusively off pringle chips, french fries, white bread and processed ham slices.
There were signs of this poor diet leading to vitamin B deficiencies at the age of 14. Slowly and progressively this affected his vision and hearing.
How Does a Vitamin Deficiency Cause Blindness?
A vitamin deficiency can cause blindness by slowly damaging the optic nerve which is a collection of nerve fibers that attach from the back of the eye and travel through the brain. This is characteristic of an eye disease called Nutritional Optic Neuropathy. So we could actually think of this disease as part eye disease but also part disease the brain and nervous system.
Why Would a Vitamin Deficiency Cause Blindness?
Think of B vitamins as waste collectors. In a cell, there are always chemical reactions occurring, and because of this, there are waste products can build up in nerve cells/fibers. B Vitamins collect and remove this waste from the cell so the function of the cell can continue. If you don't have enough B Vitamins, the waste will not be removed and the cell will not function. If it's not functioning properly, it can die. If this happens you get something called Optic Nerve Atrophy or Optic Neuropathy and you lose portions of your vision. If it is bad enough, you can lose all of your vision.
What Can You Do To Help Keep Your Eyesight?
I have to admit, I see lots of patients and nutritional optic neuropathy is not something that I typically run into. It can caused by having a poor diet like this boy, and also by alcoholism.
So there are a few things you can do to prevent this problem.
Eat a variety of foods. Red meat, dairy and eggs have Vitamin B12.
If you are vegan, there are fortified cereals and other options but also Vitamin B supplements.
Make sure to tell your doctor if your vision doesn't improve as expected with your eyeglasses or other forms of vision correction alone.
Other signs of nerve damage could be
numbness and tingling
And don't hesitate to discuss your nutrition or vitamin deficiencies with your optometrist or ophthalmologist.
During or after your eye exam, our eye doctor will probably want to run a visual field test and check your color vision - both of which would help diagnose this unfortunate condition and help to preserve vision.