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Studies & Articles

Omega-3 and your eyes

by Dato' Dr.Rajen M

We have long known that fish oil positively affects our eyes and vision. High amounts of omega-3 – the active component of fish oil – have been measured in the retina and may be essential to eye health.

Now we have the scientific proof from one of the world’s leading medical institutions. We know that it helps prevent a condition called age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

This is a disease linked to ageing that gradually destroys sharp, central vision. Central vision is needed for seeing objects clearly and is especially necessary for tasks such as reading and driving. AMD affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail. It causes no pain.

In some cases, AMD advances so slowly that people notice little change in their vision. In others, the disease progresses quickly and may lead to a loss of vision in both eyes. AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 years of age and older.

  • Blindness
  • The disease is the leading cause of blindness among older Americans of European descent and the number of individuals with advanced AMD is expected to rise by 50 per cent by the next decade.

    The macula is located in the centre of the retina, the lightsensitive tissue at the back of the eye. The retina instantly converts light, or an image, into electrical impulses. It then sends these impulses, or nerve signals, to the brain. Researchers from Wilmer Eye. Institute at Johns Hopkins University report in this month’s issue of the journal Ophthalmology that fish that contain abundant amounts of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA can protect against the development of AMD.

    The new research led by Sheila K. West, PhD, evaluated data from 2,391 participants between the ages of 65 and 84 in Maryland.

    Dietary questionnaire responses were analysed based on the type and amount of fish and shellfish consumed weekly. Photographs taken upon enrolment were evaluated for the presence and grade of macular degeneration.

  • New Evidence
  • Two hundred and twenty seven subjects were found to have early macular degeneration. 153 had intermediate-stage disease, and advanced macular degeneration (classified as the presence of abnormal blood vessel growth and bleeding or geographic atrophy), was observed in 68 participants.

    Although there did not appear to be a significant protective effect for fish and shellfish in general, those whose intake of omega-3 fatty acid fish was greatest at one or more servings per week had a 60 per cent lower risk of advanced disease compared to those who consumed less than one serving. The finding- adds evidence to that of other research, including the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), concerning the benefit of nutritional components against macular degeneration.

    Although AREDS found a protective effect for zinc against age-related macular degeneration, the current study failed to associate greater intake of seafood containing a high amount of the mineral with a lower risk of AMD.

    However, the authors note that dietary levels of zinc, which average 13mg per week in diets that include crab and oysters, are significantly lower than the 80mg per day of supplemental zinc that was administered in the trial.

    “Our study corroborates earlier findings that eating omega-3-rich fish and shellfish may protect against advanced AMD,” states Dr West. “While participants in all groups, including controls, averaged at least one serving of fish or shellfish per week, those who had advanced AMD were significantly less likely to consume high omega-3 fish and seafood.”

  • Toxins
  • “Future studies, as suggested by a recent systematic review, are needed to further elucidate the association between the consumption of fish, shellfish, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids and the risk of AMD,” say the authors.

    This study adds more weight to the need to supplement with more omega-3 – especially if you do not eat enough fish. The concern with eating fish or taking fish oil supplements is that oceans all over the world are increasingly being polluted with toxins. These toxins enter the food chain of the ocean and end up getting concentrated in the body oils of the fish.

    This is becoming more and more serious that the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States has been putting out advisories on the limits on the daily and weekly intake of fish. It also cautions against certain types of fish – especially the larger ones which live on smaller fish.

    Similarly, if you are supplementing, you should look for fish oil supplements that are certified toxin-free. Ask your pharmacist for products that undergo extensive processes that remove toxins from the oils.