A poor diet of chips and crisps caused a teenage boy in England to become blind. The boy – let’s call him Jasper – first visited his family GP complaining of tiredness when he was 14 years old.
Tests showed he was anaemic with low vitamin B12 levels. He was also a picky eater, but had no problems with his health.
His GP gave him vitamin B12 injections and advice on how to improve his diet. But by the time he was 15, he had started to develop hearing loss and had problems with his vision.
He was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist and was examined by an ophthalmologist, but no cause was found.
By age 17, his vision had become worse, to the point of blindness. He was referred to the Bristol Eye Hospital when he saw a specialist in neuro-ophthalmology. He was diagnosed with optic neuropathy (damage to the optic nerve) and further tests revealed that the cause was nutritional.
He had several micronutrient deficiencies, including low vitamin B12 (his vitamin B12 injections had lapsed), vitamin D, copper and selenium levels, and a high zinc level. His bone mineral density was also very low – probably resulting from his low vitamin D.
Jasper confessed that he had been a picky eater since primary school and would not eat certain textures of food. He had a daily portion of chips from the local fish and chip shop and snacked on crisps, white bread, processed ham slices and sausage.
Deficiencies of vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B9 (folate), vitamin B12 (cobalamin), iron, calcium, magnesium and copper are all known to cause optic neuropathy and are easily misdiagnosed as other disorders if the doctor doesn’t have the patient’s dietary history.
The condition is reversible if caught early. But left untreated, it can lead to permanent structural damage to the optic nerve and blindness, which happened in Jasper’s case.
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