REPORTER: Anna Coren July 5, 2004
Seven News Australia
|Macular degeneration is the most common cause of blindness in Australia but new research suggests avoiding vegetable oils could prevent the condition.|
It's spreading like a disease – a blindness called macular degeneration affecting at least 800,000 Australians and costing $1.5 billion per year in health care.
But with the latest research pointing to vegetable oils as the main culprit, it's possible we may be able to fend off this disease by simply changing our diets.
You might not cook with vegetable or canola oil but take a look at the ingredients in any sauce, dip, bread, margarine or biscuit – any processed food for that matter. Vegetable oil is hidden in all of them.
Most of us have been consuming these processed foods from the time we could walk. Dr Paul Beaumont from the macular degeneration foundation has been studying the link.
"[The research] showed that people eating vegetable oil got the disease twice as commonly as the people who didn't," Dr Beaumont said. "Even more convincing was a prospective study where they looked at patients with the disease and those eating too much vegetable oil progressed at 3.8 times the rate of those eating a little vegetable oil.
"You look at bread, they make it on margarine, you look at currants and they've gone and sprayed vegetable oil on them to stop them from sticking, you go and try and get tinned fish and they've put it in vegetable oil. "So yes, it's become ubiquitous, it's crept right into our food chain and you hardly know you're eating it."
Gwen Oliver was diagnosed with macular degeneration two years ago. She was astonished when Dr Beaumont told her to steer clear of vegetable oils and to only cook with extra virgin olive oil. "I was surprised about diet and all the products that we've been eating in the past," Ms Oliver said. "We've always had it advertised that vegetable oil was far better for us."
The macular sits at the back of the eye. It's made up of many different nerve cells. The oils that you eat become part of your eye but normally they're used and flushed out. When you're eating vegetable oils, researchers believe the eye can't seem to biodegrade the oil and it ends up blocking the cells and causing macular degeneration.
"In the 1920s and 30s they started to get big presses that produced hundreds of tons of vegetable oil," Dr Beaumont said. "In 1957 margarine outsold butter so we've had this massive infiltration of our food chain by vegetable oils."
Dr Beaumont says he doesn't envisage vegetable oil being removed from all foods, but says there should be a consumer health warning.
"I've seen an exponential rise from the early 1970s through to the 1990s," Dr Beaumont said. "If we look at Japan 40 years ago the disease was rare, now it's common."
"I don't think there's any doubt we have an epidemic."
Dr Paul Beaumont is horrified at the rate macular degeneration has multiplied. He's seen a tenfold increase in the last 30 years.
"I think we could halve the number of people going blind with macular degeneration if we could change their diet, cut out the vegetable oil," Dr Beaumont said.
But for Jillian Price, laser therapy didn't work. Her last chance is a cutting edge treatment called photodynamic therapy. It doesn't look like much but it causes plenty to happen inside the body.
"You inject a chemical that slowly accumulates in that blood vessel and doesn't accumulate in normal tissues," Dr Beaumont said. "And then you shine a light on the eye and it selectively activates that chemical that shuts down the abnormal tissue and [does] not damage the normal."
For Jillian Price, the disease has disabled her life as an active woman.
A specialist told Colin Noble he'd be blind within 18 months. Luckily Colin sought a second opinion and today he's one of the lucky 10 per cent who regain vision after having photodynamic therapy.
Usually the treatment merely stops or slows down the degeneration.
"I can still tie a fish hook, important things like that … I'm a very lucky bloke."
"I think they should move fairly urgently," he said. "I don't think we can afford to delay in informing the public about something which can be affecting their vision."
The federal Health Department is looking into this massive problem but wouldn't tell us any more than that. As for the Australian Food and Grocery Council - the voice of the food manufacturers who use vegetable oil - they had nothing to say, except that they were waiting to hear more evidence linking vegetable oil and macular degeneration.
"There are hundreds of thousands of Australians waiting for that advice," Dr Beaumont said. "And I think the government has to move quickly."
For more information please contact the Macular Degeneration Foundation on 1800 111 709 or visit www.mdfoundation.com.au
I have been aware for many years now of the severe adverse impact that vegetable oils are having on the health of hundreds of millions of people due to the inverse ratio to saturated fats.
Once upon a time before vested interests started beating the low fat/no saturated fat drum we all ate what was a reasonably balanced ratio of natural saturated fats with modest or little vegetable oil. Thanks to flawed research paid for by the burgeoning vegetable oil manufacturers and cereal manufacturers the unwitting public was conned into thinking we should all be eating more cereals less saturated fat and more vegetable oil.
Nothing could be further from the truth! Our ancestors ate saturated fats and lots of protein with modest amounts of vegetables and fruits. Later as mankind evolved, grains crept into the diet. However, until recently, the last 100 years, grains were never a significant percentage of most diets in the world, neither were vegetable oils.
Vegetable oils are implicated in far more serious metabolic disease than just macular degeneration. Amongst them heart disease and cancer!
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