Think Good Health Care Leads to Good Eyesight? Think AgainJun 4, 2014
According to findings from Dr. Margaret DeAngelis of the Moran Eye Center, the health of your eyes isn’t always dependent on your overall health. She talks about new research that identifies new factors in what makes eyes more prone to disease. She discusses extraordinary findings about a population in Timor, Indonesia – and why the people there also have some of the healthiest eyes in the world.
Interviewer: Could your body mass index actually affect your eyesight? We'll examine that next on The Scope.
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Interviewer: We're with Dr. Margaret DeAngelis. She's at the Moran Eye Institute, also on the Utah women's eye health board. Body mass index, could that actually affect your eyesight? The answer is kind of surprising. Tell me about that.
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: Yes, it can, and there's been a number of studies that have shown that body mass index, or your weight, can influence eye disease and eye disease progression.
Interviewer: Is this kind of a recent discovery?
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: No.
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: But there are recent discoveries that are still being published in how that can influence eye disease. Some of the first studies that were done were done here in the United States by the Klines, Dr. Robert and Barbara Kline, showing this influence with age related macular degeneration which is one of the leading causes of blindness, and it shows that higher body mass index, or the heavier you are, increases your risk for this eye disease. My group recently recruited a population from east Timor which is near Indonesia. This is a population that gets no blinding eye diseases.
Interviewer: Is that unusual in a population?
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: Yes.
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: They have a very poor diet. They eat high fat meat, goat meat, and no leafy green vegetables.
Interviewer: OK, up until this point, we were told...
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: Yes, I know we were told to eat leafy greens, but their B.M.I. is 18.5.
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: And remember a healthy B.M.I. is between 21 and 25, less than 25. An obese is 30 or greater.
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: These people have a B.M.I. of 18.5 which the World Heath Organization puts as the thinnest population in the world so this is not in Africa, this is in Timor. Now we're trying to figure out why they get no blinding eye diseases of the retina, the back of the eye, which is like the camera in the film, the film in the camera excuse me. And even though they have some protective alleles or variance in genes that could maybe predict that they're not getting eye diseases, that doesn't explain the full story. We think that it is these environmental factors as well, and we think that it may have to also do with their very low body mass index so we're exploring that element further.
Interviewer: So traditionally diet matters, but their diet should give them eye disease. Do they smoke?
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: Yes.
Interviewer: And they smoke as well.
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: They smoke cigarettes.
Interviewer: And that is known to help...
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: We've shown that as a risk factor for many eye diseases.
Interviewer: And I would imagine... What's their access to healthcare like?
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: Very poor.
Interviewer: Yeah, but yet... So wow, this must be kind of exciting to have this population.
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: Yeah, and we don't... So we think it's a combination of genetics and a low body mass index.
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: In this particular population.
Interviewer: Is that something that could be scaled do you think? This information you're going to gain, is it going to help combat eye disease through the rest of the population?
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: Well, that's the idea. That's why we study populations throughout the world because we hope that it would have global applicability to other ethnicities.
Interviewer: And when can you talk about... I feel like I've gotten halfway through a great book and now you can't tell me the end.
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: Well, we're also at the same time trying to discern the ethnicity of the Timor race because nobody's quite sure what their ethnicity is because they've been at times settled by the Portuguese, the Indonesians, and a mixture of other populations that have come in and tried to colonize them through the last century.
Interviewer: So even that's a little confusing.
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: So that's confusing so we're trying to figure out their genetic make up at the same time.
Interviewer: Gotcha. When will we be able to hear the rest of your story?
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: We're hoping to publish this in the next two months.
Interviewer: Gotcha. And the results, I know you probably can't give me a sneak preview but what are the implications going to be do you believe?
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: The implications are going to be that all these diseases are a combination of genetic and environmental factors and how the two interact together to manifest disease or protect us from disease so if we can do things to prevent the disease in the environment like not smoke, eat healthy. If we eat healthier, hopefully that will lower our B.M.I. because certainly the way you control your weight is also, we have a predisposition to that, so anything we can do to modify our environment to help us would also help us reduce our risk of getting these blinding diseases and especially if we're women.
Interviewer: Yeah, I'm really trying to wrap my head around this. It seems to me as a non-scientist that wow, the B.M.I. looks like it could be the major factor in this particular study.
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: Yes, for this. That's what was surprising because we've compared this, we have several other populations part of this study. We have a group from central Greece. We have a group from Boston. We have a group from northern Italy, and a group from South Korea. All with different B.M.I.s closer to what we find here in Utah.
Interviewer: And are you watching the graph go up as B.M.I. goes up?
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: Yes, our heaviest population is from Boston, where I moved from before I came here to Utah.
Interviewer: Well, you look fabulous by the way.
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: You're kind.
Interviewer: What take away would you like for our listener to have after hearing this discussion?
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: To try to eat healthy, to exercise.
Interviewer: And watch that B.M.I.
Dr. Margaret DeAngelis: And watch that B.M.I. definitely.
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