Since optic neuropathy correlates with greater nerve cell loss in the brain, tracking changes to the retina may be a feasible way to determine if healthier lifestyle choices can improve outcomes in MS.
The study, “Association of body mass index with longitudinal rates of retinal atrophy in multiple sclerosis,” was published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal, and funded in part by the National MS Society.
MS is chronic neurodegenerative disease caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Studies have suggested that obesity is associated with greater MS disability and disease progression, as well cognitive deficits.
Optical nerve tissue has been shown to mirror changes in overall brain health in people with MS, the society states in a release. Degeneration in a particular layer in the back of the eye, called the ganglion cell and inner plexiform layer (GCIPL), appears to correlate with worse disability, increased disease activity, and greater brain atrophy in MS.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University set out to investigate whether obesity in MS also increased the damage and loss of neurons in this region of the eye. This would support a link between obesity and worse outcomes of those with MS.
Their study included 513 participants from the Johns Hopkins MS Center who were classified either as having normal weight (214 patients), being overweight (153), or obese (146), depending on their body-mass index (BMI).
Damage to the optic nerve was assessed using a rapid, non-invasive, high-resolution method called optical coherence tomography (OCT), which uses light waves to acquire cross-section pictures of the retina. This allows ophthalmologists to map out and measure the thickness of layers in the eye.
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