Some “picky” eaters have a lot more to worry about than not finding anything they like on the menu.
Diets high in processed foods and low in fresh produce are known to lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer — but an alarming new report is highlighting one lesser-known outcome: blindness and nerve damage.
A case study published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine involves a boy who first visited the doctor complaining of excessive fatigue at age 14. Blood tests confirmed he was deficient in iron and vitamin B12. He had reportedly been called a “fussy eater,” and was treated with B12 shots.
A year later, he’d added hearing loss and poor vision to his list of symptoms, but MRI scans and an eye exam revealed no diagnosis. By 17, his eyesight had declined to a score of 20/200, considered “legally blind” in the US. Further tests showed his optic nerve was damaged, and he was still low on B12, copper and vitamin D.
His continued nutritional gaps led doctors to probe further into his diet, and the boy confessed that the texture of certain food turned him off, according to the researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK. He revealed his daily meals usually consisted of french fries, white bread, processed ham, sausage and Pringles potato chips. After ruling out other causes of vision loss, they diagnosed him with “nutritional optic neuropathy” — an example of how nutritional deficiencies can cause cellular nerve damage.
The authors note that the condition — usually caused by other drugs and illnesses that result in malabsorption of food — resulting from junk food is rare in advanced countries. It can be reversed if caught early, but it was too late for their case study. Unfortunately, glasses won’t help either because optic nerve damage can’t be corrected with lenses.
Still, this teen continued on a course of supplements to help prevent further blindness, and was referred to therapy for eating disorders. Authors said the “picky eater” actually has what psychologists call “avoidant-restrictive food intake disorder,” a diagnosis attributed to adults who avoid certain textures, colors and other arbitrary characteristics, without concern for their own health.
Lead author and opthalmologist at Bristol Medical School Dr. Denize Atan concluded in the report, “This case highlights the impact of diet on visual and physical health, and the fact that calorie intake and BMI are not reliable indicators of nutritional status.”
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