Red Meat, High-Fat Dairy Products Could Play a Role in Common Retina Disease


A study from SUNY University at Buffalo has found adherence to a Western diet could contribute to the development of late age-related macular degeneration.

Amy Millen, PhD

Amy Millen, PhD

A person’s diet could play a much larger role in their risk of developing age-related macular degeneration than previously thought.

Results of a study from the State University of New York at Buffalo revealed patients consuming a diet high in red and processed meats, refined grains, fried food, and high-fat dairy were 3 times more likely to develop the retinal condition.

“What we observed in this study was that people who had no AMD or early AMD at the start of our study and reported frequently consuming unhealthy foods were more likely to develop vision-threatening, late-stage disease approximately 18 years later,” said investigator Amy Millen, PhD, associate professor and associate chair of epidemiology and environmental health at University at Buffalo, in a press release.

One of the leading causes of vision loss among Americans, investigators sought to determine how diet plays a role in the development of late-stage age-related macular degeneration. To evaluate how a “Western” dietary pattern, which investigators classified as high in consumption of red and processed meat, fried food, refined grains and high-fat dairy, impacted disease development, investigators conducted an analysis using data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study.

To assess any potential relationship, investigators used a 66-line item food frequency questionnaire administered at visit 1 and visit 3 to identify 29 food groups. ARIC participants who exhibited a change in age-related macular degeneration lesions between retinal photographs at visit 3 and visit 5 were graded side-by-side by investigators to determine disease incidence. Investigators compared the development of age-related macular degeneration based on whether participants had greater adherence to a Western or “prudent” diet.

Investigators used logistic regression to estimate ORs and 95% CIs for incident AMD by tertiles of dietary pattern scores, adjusted for age, race, education, total calories and smoking status. Investigators used continuous scores to estimate P-trends.

Upon analyses, there were no observed associations between either dietary pattern examined and incident any or incident early age-related macular degeneration. Conversely, when examining the development of late age-related macular degeneration, investigators found participants with a Western pattern score were at 3 times greater risk of developing the condition compared to those below the median (OR=3.44, 95% CI: 1.33 to 8.87; P-trend=0.014). Investigators also noted the risk of developing late age-related macular degeneration was decreased but not statistically significant among patients with a prudent pattern score above compared to those with a score below the median (OR=0.51, 95% CI: 0.22 to 1.18; P-trend=0.054).

“Our work provides additional evidence that that diet matters,” Millen said of the results. “From a public health standpoint, we can tell people that if you have early AMD, it is likely in your best interest to limit your intake of processed meat, fried food, refined grains and high-fat dairy to preserve your vision over time.”

This study, titled “Diet patterns and the incidence of age-related macular degeneration in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study,” was published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

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