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Red Meat Linked to Blindness in Old Age

Red Meat Macular Degeneration A lot of people are beginning to treat diet related medical findings with doubt. That's because of the variety and conflicting nature of the claims being made. First, coffee was bad for you - then it became good. Wine was good for you - now people are questioning that. Sugar was bad for you - now it's good again. No wonder people are beginning to treat all this kind of research with a modicum of skepticism.

So, when new research claims that the eating of red meat is linked to blindness in old age, is it just a passing fad? Something that will be disproved a few years down the road? Actually, no!

The claim is based not just on some laboratory findings of a short term study with a small control group of volunteers. It is based on 13 years of detailed study involving the monitoring of diet and its effects on the vision of nearly 7000 middle aged men and women. What the study found was that people of middle age and over who eat red meat a minimum of ten times a week are 50% more likely to develop symptoms of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) than those who ate red meat 5 times a week or less.

The research was carried out by Dr. Elaine Chong and her colleagues from the University of Melbourne, in Australia. The study was backed by funding from various Australian health organizations and the American Journal of Epidemiology, published it - a publication meant specifically for peer review of medical research.

According to the findings of the study, age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in the developed world, among people of the age of 50 and above. AMD is a progressive degeneration of visual capacity that affects the central vision - the capability to see what is directly in front of you. This happens when the part of the eye responsible for this central vision, the macula, loses its ability to function as efficiently as it id when the person was younger.

There are two different forms of AMD - wet and dry - and each can be divided in two specific stages. In the case of dry AMD, it involves the progressive thinning of the retina. Wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) involves the leaking of fluids which are continually being secreted by the eye. The two specific stages that both types of AMD go through are the early and the late stages. In the early stage yellow deposits are found in the eye and the color of the retina changes which is a clear indication of an unhealthy retina. When the color changes and deposits are more noticeable and the vision begins to be affected, it is known as late AMD.

Between the years, 1990 and 1994 Dr. Chong and her colleagues recruited 6734 people to participate in their study. At the start of the study, participants were asked to fill up detailed questionnaires on their dietary habits. Among the information they were asked to provide were of the quantities and types of meat they ate and the frequency of their consumption.

In the follow up stage of the study 13 years later, the research team took high definition pictures of retinas of the participants and evaluated them for signs of AMD.

The results were then compiled on a statistical basis that took into account the other factors that could also influence the onset of AMD like smoking. The results, when refined and finalized produced some very interesting findings. They showed that:

  • Of the participants in the study, 1680 had early stage AMD and 77 had late stage AMD.
  • Those who ate more red meat were most likely to develop symptoms of AMD.
  • The statistical analysis showed that those who ate red meat more that 10 times a week had a 47% plus high risk of getting AMD than those who ate red meat 5 times or less a week.
  • On surprising finding was that people who ate chicken (white meat) between 3 and 4 times a week had an almost 60% lower risk of getting AMD than those who ate it less than 2 times a week.

None of this research means that you need to give up eating meat and become a vegetarian. But red meat intake has long been associated with health issues like high cholesterol. This is just another reason for people to be careful of their diets and reduce their red meat intake to not more than 5 times a week. Since the study seems to show that white meat, within moderation, is good for the eyes, eating red meat not more than 5 times a week and chicken not more than 4 times a week would seem to be a reasonable compromise. Keep in mind that this is only in relation to the effect that red meat has on the eyes - the other negative effects on red meat consumption should not be ignored.

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