nutritional optic neuropathy

Primer on Nutritional Optic Neuropathy

A young boy, aged 17, made the news when he developed a form of blindness after years of malnourished dieting.

After examination, it was found that the teenager’s diet had given him nutritional optic neuropathy, a type of acquired optic neuropathy.

Optic neuropathy is when the optic nerve is damaged which can then lead to changes in the individual’s sight. This is due to damage done to the retinal ganglion cells and their axons which can cause modifications to the optic nerve head as well as the surrounding retinal nerve fibre layer.

Optic neuropathy can be caused by a variety of factors, including trauma, drugs, and genetics. Nutritional optic neuropathy occurs when the body is deficient in certain nutrients due to the individual’s diet.

Although those who develop this type of optic neuropathy solely due to nutritional malpractice are rare (they are more commonly found in regions where famine is prevalent), lacking certain nutrients is often a big factor in the progression of other forms of this condition.

Some of the main deficiencies responsible for nutritional optic neuropathy include:

  • Vitamin B-12 (cyanocobalamin)
  • Vitamin B-1 (thiamine)
  • Vitamins B-2 (riboflavin)
  • Folate

In the case of the teenager mentioned above, his diet consisted of chips, crisps, white bread, and sausages, which left his body in need of more vitamin B-12, among other nutrients.

In the early stages of nutritional optic neuropathy, visual acuity is normally the first to worsen. At this stage, if treated correctly, it is possible to reverse the detriment done and recover lost sight. If left untreated, patients can lose central vision as well as the ability to distinguish colours.

Damage can be permanent so it is important to seek clinical advice as soon as any change in sight is noticed so that treatment can start. An improvement in diet as well as vitamin supplements can help with staving off the later stages of the condition.

It must be noted that due to the rarity of primarily nutritional optic neuropathy in developed countries, the selectiveness of the diet could be a symptom of avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), an eating disorder that is not due to body image issues.