Too much red meat may increase age-related blindness: Study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Eating about two portions of red meat a day may increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration by about 50 per cent, says a new study from Australia.

According to findings published in the American Journal of Epidemiology​, consumption of white meat, however, may offer some protection against AMD, the leading cause of blindness in people over 50.

Despite the fact that approximately 25 to 30 million people worldwide are affected by AMD, awareness of the condition is low, according to AMD Alliance International. And as the generation of Baby Boomers gets older, the Alliance expects incidence to be on the rise and triple by 2025.

AMD is a degenerative retinal disease that causes central vision loss and leaves only peripheral vision. Early detection is cited as a means of prevention so that treatment or rehabilitation can be undertaken early enough. However, links to diet have also been underscored.

Bad press for meat products

The study is yet more bad news to the meat industry, following previous reports that consumption of red meat may increase the risk of certain cancers. Such reports are negatively impacting on the industry, according to a recent survey commissioned by the World Cancer Research Fund that found that over 10 per cent of people have tried to cut down on processed meat intake.

The survey was commissioned one year after the fund published a report that claimed that eating 150g of processed meat a day increased the risk of bowel cancer by 63 per cent.

New data

The researchers, led by Elaine Chong from the Centre for Eye Research Australia at the University of Melbourne, used food frequency questionnaires (FFQs) to assess dietary intakes of meat and meat products among 6,734 people aged between 58 and 69.

Over the course of the study, the researchers documented 1,757 cases of AMD, 1,680 of which were early AMD, and 77 were late AMD.

According to their analysis, Chong and her co-workers report that people who consumed red meat at least ten times per week were 47 per cent more likely to suffer from early-stage AMD, compared to people who ate red meat less than five times per week.

They note that similar trends were also observed for early AMD with higher intakes of fresh and processed red meat.

Chicken offers hope

On the other hand, chicken consumption may offer some protection against AMD, added Chong and her co-workers, with people consuming chicken at least 3.5 times a week found to have a 57 per cent lower risk of late-stage AMD than people consuming chicken less than 1.5 times per week.

“These results suggest that different meats may differently affect AMD risk and may be a target for lifestyle modification,”​ concluded the researchers.

Source: American Journal of Epidemiology​ Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1093/aje/kwn393 "Red Meat and Chicken Consumption and Its Association With Age-related Macular Degeneration"​ Authors: E.W.-T. Chong, J.A. Simpson, L.D. Robman, A.M. Hodge, K.Z. Aung, D.R. English, G.G. Giles, R.H. Guymer

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