Upstate News

January 5, 2007
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Chronic low blood sugar leads to vision loss, reveals SUNY Upstate study

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Chronic low blood sugar—or hypoglycemia—can hasten age-related vision loss, new research in mice suggests.

The study by researchers at SUNY Upstate Medical University found that metabolic stress from moderate hypoglycemia led to loss of retinal function in mice, loss of visual acuity and eventual death of retinal cells.

The study, reported last month in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, is the first to demonstrate a metabolic-stress induced loss of vision in mammals. “Linkage between low blood glucose and loss of vision in mice may highlight the importance for glycemic control in diabetics and retinal diseases related to metabolic stress as macular degeneration,” noted study author Robert Barlow, Ph.D., SUNY Upstate professor of ophthalmology.

To assess the effect of chronic low blood glucose on vision, researchers used mice bred to be hypoglycemic. They found that chronic hypoglycemia in these mice led to decreased retinal function, retinal cell death, and loss of visual acuity by 10 months of age, whereas mice with normal glucose levels retained visual acuity past 16 months. Restoring blood glucose to normal levels through the diet delayed vision loss in the mutant mice by several months.

The study’s finding may be of special importance to diabetics, who are susceptible to recurrent hypoglycemia because of intensive insulin treatment. “These actions of recurrent and chronic hypoglycemia, which our research addressed, may further underscore the importance of glycemic control by diabetics,” Barlow said.

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