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Study Alerts: Ultra-processed Foods Are Associated with an Increased Risk of Glaucoma



Researchers looked at the connection between ultra-processed food (UPF) consumption and glaucoma incidence among Spanish university graduates in a recent study that was published in the journal Nutrients.


The progressive loss of retinal ganglion cells characterizes glaucoma, one of the world’s most common causes of permanent blindness. The risk of glaucoma is increased by advanced age, non-Caucasian race, elevated intraocular pressure, and family history. However, a growing number of variables related to changing the environment, such as lifestyle, exercise, and nutrition, are linked to its growth. The use of complementary and alternative medicine in glaucoma treatment has grown in popularity, but further research is needed to fully realize its therapeutic potential. The high salt, sugar, and fat content of UPF components has piqued scientific attention in nutrition. Although the association between food and glaucoma risk is unclear, prior research suggests one. To incorporate these findings into clinical treatment procedures, more research is necessary.

Concerning the study
Researchers examined if using UPF raises the prevalence of glaucoma among Spanish university graduates in this observational, prospective cohort study.

19,255 Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra (SUN) Project participants—60% of whom were women with an average age of 38—were included in the study. Through biennial questionnaires that could be completed online or by mail, the individuals were tracked by the researchers for a mean of thirteen years. Data on sociodemographic characteristics, physical characteristics, dietary habits, lifestyle choices, and comorbidities were all included in the baseline questionnaire (Q0). Every two years (Q2 to Q20), the researchers provided follow-up study questionnaires to assess dietary, lifestyle, and health-related changes and track the occurrence of diseases. To get updated data, they employed the Q10 study questionnaire.

The researchers assessed dietary consumption using food-frequency questionnaires (FFQ) and calculated UPF intake using the NOVA food classification. By asking the study participants whether they had ever received a glaucoma diagnosis from an ophthalmologist, they were able to determine the diagnosis of glaucoma. They also confirmed the self-reported diagnoses among 150 participants at baseline and at two-year intervals throughout follow-up, in accordance with the parameters set forth by the European Glaucoma Society.

Those with ocular hypertension or glaucoma at baseline, as well as those whose energy intake values above preset thresholds, were not included in the study. After controlling for lifestyle and dietary factors, medical history, and sociodemographic variables, they employed Cox regression models to calculate the hazard ratios (HR). A few examples of sociodemographic characteristics were body mass index, age, and level of education. The overall number of calories consumed, following a Mediterranean diet, exercising, smoking, using caffeine or ethanol, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6, and following a particular diet were among the lifestyle and dietary variables. Diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension were among the comorbidities.

Findings and Conversation

In the course of follow-up, the researchers examined 176,963 individual years and recorded 230 instances of glaucoma patients. The people who consumed the most ultra-processed foods were younger, drank more coffee and ethanol, and consumed more calories overall. Following covariate adjustments, the glaucoma risk (HR, 1.8) was higher in those with the highest ultra-processed food intake (more than four servings of UPF per day) than in those with the lowest UPF intake (up to one serving of UPF per day).

Age of the participants and the dietary omega-3:omega-6 ratio revealed statistically significant multiplicative correlations, according to the subgroup analysis. Nonetheless, a correlation between the consumption of highly processed foods and newly developed glaucoma was restricted to males who were 55 years of age or older, physically active, did not smoke, and had low intake of total calories and omega-3:omega-6 fatty acids. In terms of UPF type, sweets had a glaucoma incidence risk that was noticeably higher (HR, 1.5). excellent agreement was seen between the validation findings for both clinical case diagnoses and self-documented diagnoses, indicating excellent sensitivity and specificity and validating open-angle-type glaucoma.

Elevated blood glucose levels, oxidative stress, and inflammation can result from a high consumption of UPFs, with sugary foods being the main source. These processed foods have a higher glycemic impact and less nutritional density, which increases the risk of inflammation and oxidative stress. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) exposure raises the risk of glaucoma and inflammation in the retina. Increased blood glucose, oxidative stress, endothelial dysfunction, weight gain, and inflammation can all result from high UPF consumption. It’s unclear exactly how UPF consumption and low-grade inflammation are related, but it’s probably because of their potent pro-inflammatory properties. When healthy options like fruits and vegetables are substituted for UPFs, which include high amounts of added sugars, trans fats, and salt, the outcome is nutrient displacement and a negative impact on dietary consumption.

In conclusion

Overall, the study discovered that those who used the most UV protection were more likely to get glaucoma than people who used the least amount. Moreover, UPF from candies separately showed a considerable glaucoma risk. The results highlight how crucial it is to monitor health and limit UPF consumption, especially of high-sugar varieties, in order to lower the incidence of glaucoma patients.

Healthcare providers need to encourage eating habits that include consuming more unprocessed or minimally processed foods, given the growing societal trend toward UPF consumption. In addition, a number of governments have imposed regulations to discourage the use of UPF, including as front-side labeling, charges on unhealthy food items, restrictions on advertising, and promotion of healthier options.

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