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Diabetes is dangerous not only to your overall health, but also to the health of your eyes — and a threat to your vision. Diabetes increases your risk for glaucoma and cataracts, and may trigger diabetic retinopathy. With this condition, high sugar levels cause blood vessels to swell, leak and sometimes stop functioning altogether. 

At later stages of diabetic retinopathy, the retina actually grows new blood vessels, which leak blood into the eye’s vitreous fluid. The new vessels can also form scar tissue that may lead to the development of a detached retina. The end result of all of these changes is often the partial or complete loss of eyesight.

Individuals At Risk for Diabetes

Overweight individuals are at the most serious risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes accounts for 10 percent or less of all cases, and is usually caused by genetic factors or autoimmune disease. Type 2 diabetes occurs when excess weight raises glucose levels in the blood, triggering insulin resistance in the body. Ultimately the pancreas weakens as it struggles to produce enough insulin to overwhelm this resistance.

Although type 2 diabetes sometimes has a genetic component, your likelihood of developing it is strongly linked with your weight and level of physical activity. If you are obese, your risk of developing the condition is three to seven times greater than it is for persons of normal weight. And if your BMI is 35 or above, your risk explodes to 20 times that of a typical adult. Risk rises even higher for persons with most of their excess weight around the abdomen. 

Evidence of the strong correlation between obesity and type 2 diabetes is demonstrated by the fact that when type 2 diabetics slim down and become more active, their diabetes either dramatically improves or disappears entirely.

Diabetic Retinopathy Treatment Options 

There are surgical options to shrink or mitigate damage to leaky blood vessels, and a number of medications that may improve symptoms. Avastin, Eylea, and Lucentis are medications that are injected directly into the eye, and may reduce internal swelling and slow the progression of the disease. Injectable steroids are also sometimes used.

The most effective treatment for diabetic retinopathy is to reduce blood pressure and target the root condition: diabetes. 

Treating type 2 diabetes usually begins with a conservative approach. A modest initial goal is to lose 10 percent of excess weight, which will immediately take some of the strain off the pancreas.

While lowering overall food intake is important, reducing the proportion of complex carbohydrates will further help lower blood sugar, as these carbohydrate-dense foods stimulate greater insulin production in the body. This not only puts more pressure on the pancreas, but greater concentrations of insulin in the blood tend to raise body weight, creating a dangerous cycle of rising glucose, insulin and weight.

Nutrients and Fiber to Manage Diabetic Retinopathy

There is also some evidence that boosting the amount of fiber you consume helps your system more effectively manage blood glucose, and may even promote weight loss by filling the stomach with food that carries fewer calories.

A diet rich in key vitamins and minerals strengthens your eyes and helps prevent ocular diseases. Among the best nutrients are omega-3 fats, beta carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and zinc. Vitamin A, B vitamins, iron and thiamine are essential for your eyes. Non-starchy plant foods, such as fruits and leafy vegetables, are ideal sources of vitamin B. This eye-healthy vitamin can also be found in whole grains, eggs, dairy products, meat, nuts, seeds and legumes. Daily vitamin supplements are a good idea for those who do not consume sufficient amounts of these nutrients.

Exercise, too, is an important way to prevent and manage diabetes. Vigorous physical activity helps your system control glucose and strengthens the pancreas.

If you would like to learn more about diabetes and diabetic retinopathy, we invite you to schedule a personal consultation with an experienced ophthalmologist at our West Palm Beach or Jupiter office by contacting Mittleman Eye today.