Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Veena Angle, MBBS, MD on June 20, 2022

Does Weight Gain Cause Vision Loss?

When it comes to vision loss, most people wouldn't think their weight is to blame. Read more about the connection between vision and weight here and what to do to stay healthy.

Obesity and vision loss min scaled

Out of all the unusual connections in the body, most of us wouldn’t associate obesity with vision loss.

However, for some people with eye problems, their weight may be a contributing factor.

In this guide, our medical experts explain how your weight can cause vision loss. They’ll also provide tips for supporting both your eyesight as well as your waistline.

How Does Obesity Lead To Vision Loss?

Being obese may put additional pressure on the blood vessels leading to the eyes.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the terms ‘obesity’ and ‘overweight’ can be defined as an abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. A person is usually considered obese when their body mass index (BMI) is over 30.

Studies have shown that being obese significantly reduces ocular health. By carrying extra weight, you put excessive pressure on the blood vessels located in your eyes. These delicate vessels are easily prone to damage, causing poor vision.

Below are some eye diseases that have been associated with obesity:

Cataracts

Several experts have highlighted a direct correlation between obesity and cataracts. Firstly, obese patients have higher levels of leptin (the hormone released by fat cells), which enhances oxidative stress that is involved in cataract formation.

Secondly, obesity causes inflammation, which could trigger the development of cataracts. Finally, cataract is thought to be one of the outcomes of obesity-induced diabetes.

Glaucoma

Excess body weight can put more pressure on the blood vessels in the eyes. As a result, obese patients tend to have higher intraocular pressure (IOP), a common risk factor for glaucoma. 

Diabetic retinopathy

A 2019 study in Beijing, China published in the International Journal of Medical Research, has shown that central obesity increases the risk of diabetic retinopathy by 12%.

Like cataracts, one theory is that central obesity promotes oxidative stress that leads to the condition. Another possible explanation is that it is closely linked to diabetes and other symptoms of metabolic syndrome. 

Age-related maculopathy

Maculopathy is a disease related to the central part of the retina, called the macula. Experts have found a connection between obesity and age-related maculopathy though to date, there hasn’t been a consistent pattern of association. 

How To Prevent Vision Loss Caused By Obesity

Studies propose that weight loss may help lessen the likelihood of eye diseases. Maintaining a healthy weight can be achieved through these methods: 

Eat a well-balanced diet

Eating a healthy diet high in antioxidant-rich foods can help support eye health and weight loss.

To lose weight, focus on consuming calories that come from whole food sources. Fill your plate with lean protein, such as chicken or fish, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil.

Limit your intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates. You can refer to the Mediterranean diet for a healthy meal plan. 

Exercise

To lose weight, it’s advisable to create a calorie deficit. This means you are burning more calories than you are consuming. Exercising is a good way to induce a calorie deficit.

The US Department of Health and Human Services states you should do the following:

  • 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or
  • 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity

If you are susceptible to obesity or have been obese, do these to avoid regaining weight:

  • Engage in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.
  • Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week

Complement them with strength exercises and balance training (gym workout, tai chi) two days a week. It is best to remain active and not stay sitting for too long.

Natural remedies

If dieting and exercising aren’t enough, you can try some slimming herbs normally prescribed by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physicians. These herbs include: 

  • Roselle (Mei Gui Qie): This herb contains cooling and detoxifying effects as well as the ability to enhance metabolism. It also can reduce the absorption of carbohydrates and glucose and may aid in weight loss. 
  • Garcinia cambogia (Teng Huang Guo): The plant is famous for containing hydroxy citric acid (HCA), an ingredient typically found in diet supplements to burn fat, support appetite control, and increase exercise endurance.
  • Green coffee bean extract: A study has found that green coffee bean extract can prevent obesity. This is thanks to its polyphenols antioxidant (chlorogenic acid) that can regulate genes associated with fat cell formation (reducing fat absorption in the gut) and inflammation.  

Eye Health Tips To Help Prevent Vision Loss

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are some things you can do to prevent vision loss other than maintaining a healthy weight: 

  1. Take a comprehensive dilated eye exam 
  2. Learn about your family’s eye health history 
  3. Don’t smoke 
  4. Keep your hands and contact lenses clean 
  5. Wear sunglasses that can block out 99 to 100% of ultraviolet rays 
  6. Reduce digital eye strain by taking breaks from your computer or phone screen 
  7. Additionally, you can consume natural supplements that protect the eyes 

As if the effects of obesity aren’t damaging enough, we’ve learned now that it can also compromise our eyesight. Therefore, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is vital to ensure a fit body looks and optimum eyesight.

This is an adaptation of an article, The Importance of Weight Management Besides Feeling and Looking Good (Eye Health), which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang’s website

References

  1. World Health Organization. 2020. Obesity [online]. Available at: <https://www.who.int/health-topics/obesity
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2014. Using appropriate body mass index cut points for overweight and obesity among Asian Americans [online]. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4217157/
  3. Wiley Online Library. 2012. Obesity in Asia – is it different from rest of the world [online]. Available at: <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/dmrr.2353
  4. Journal of the American Academy of Optometry. 2014. Overweight, Obesity, and Age-Related Cataract [online]. Available at: <https://journals.lww.com/optvissci/Fulltext/2014/05000/Overweight,_Obesity,_and_Age_Related_Cataract__A.3.aspx
  5. Journal of Glaucoma. 2021. The Association of Intraocular Pressure With Obesity and Cardiometabolic Risk in a Young Farmworker Population [online]. Available at: <https://journals.lww.com/glaucomajournal/Abstract/2021/01000/The_Association_of_Intraocular_Pressure_With.5.aspx
  6. Journal of International Medical Research. 2019. Is central obesity associated with diabetic retinopathy in Chinese individuals? An exploratory study [online]. Available at: <https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0300060519874909
  7. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science. 2016. Overweight, Obesity, and Risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration [online]. Available at: <https://iovs.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2505553
  8. National Health Service. 2017. Treatment-Obesity [online]. Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/obesity/treatment/
  9. Hindawi. 2014. Decaffeinated Green Coffee Bean Extract Attenuates Diet-Induced Obesity and Insulin Resistance in Mice [online]. Available at: <https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2014/718379/
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. Tips to Prevent Vision Loss [online]. Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/risk/tips.htm>

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