Eyesight: The vitamin deficiency that’s the ‘leading cause of preventable blindness’

Fitness & Health:

Vision, like smell, taste, touch and hearing, is easy to take for granted. It’s only when it’s in decline that its contribution becomes truly manifest. Although vision loss is inevitable, for most people blindness is not.

In fact, you can actually avoid blindness by leading a healthy lifestyle.

Top of the pile is to pack enough vitamin A into your diet because the vitamin can directly cause blindness.

In fact, vitamin A deficiency is the “leading cause of preventable blindness” in children worldwide, warns the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).


Vitamin A plays an important role in your vision. As the AAO explains, to see the full spectrum of light, your eye needs to produce certain pigments for your retina to work properly.

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The health body continues: “Vitamin A deficiency stops the production of these pigments, leading to night blindness.

“Your eye also needs vitamin A to nourish other parts of your eye, including the cornea.”

It adds: “Without enough vitamin A, your eyes cannot produce enough moisture to keep them properly lubricated.”

How to top up vitamin A

Good sources of vitamin A (retinol) include:

  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Oily fish
  • Fortified low-fat spreads
  • Milk and yoghurt
  • Liver and liver products such as liver pâté – this is a particularly rich source of vitamin A, so you may be at risk of having too much vitamin A if you have it more than once a week (if you’re pregnant you should avoid eating liver or liver products).
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“If you take supplements containing vitamin A, make sure your daily intake from food and supplements does not exceed 1.5 mg (1,500 µg),” advises the NHS.

Other dietary causes of blindness

There’s also strong evidence that eating too much “junk food” can precipitate vision decline.

Clinician scientists from Bristol Medical School and the Bristol Eye Hospital examined the case of a teenage patient who first visited his GP complaining of tiredness.

The link between his nutritional status and vision was not picked up until much later, and by then, his visual impairment had become permanent.

Upon further investigation, the researchers concluded that the patient’s “junk food” diet and limited intake of nutritional vitamins and minerals resulted in the onset of nutritional optic neuropathy.

Nutritional optic neuropathy is a dysfunction of the optic nerve which is important for vision. The condition is reversible, if caught early.

But, left untreated, it can lead to permanent structural damage to the optic nerve and blindness.

Doctor Denize Atan, the study’s lead author and Consultant Senior Lecturer in Ophthalmology at Bristol Medical School and Clinical Lead for Neuro-ophthalmology at Bristol Eye Hospital, said: “Our vision has such an impact on quality of life, education, employment, social interactions, and mental health. 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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