Fish Oil Protects Against Common Eye Disease

Healthnotes Newswire (July 5, 2007)—Some people call fish “brain food,” but scientists have found that it’s good for much more than that. New research suggests that eating fish might protect the eyes.

Studies have shown that fish oil may well be the closest thing to a cure-all the world of nutrition has to offer. It lowers triglyceride levels and blood pressure, normalizes heart rhythm, prevents heart disease and sudden cardiac death, reduces inflammation and treats chronic inflammatory conditions such as allergies and autoimmune diseases, and prevents some cancers.

The eyes, like other parts of the body, are vulnerable to the effects of chronic inflammation. Age-related degeneration of the macula, an area in the back of the eye that is critical to proper vision, might be one of the results of chronic eye inflammation. Macular degeneration is a leading cause of blindness in the elderly.

A number of studies have linked macular degeneration to damage caused by harmful free radicals, which are combated by antioxidants such as vitamins C, E, and A, beta carotene, zinc, and selenium. Other research has found that the balance of fatty acids in the eye can influence macular degeneration risk, possibly by affecting the degree of inflammation.

Both saturated fatty acids (from animal fats) and monounsaturated fatty acids (from olive and other oils) have been found to slightly increase macular degeneration risk, while higher amounts of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids from fish, which are anti-inflammatory, appear to slightly decrease risk. The new study, published in Archives of Ophthalmology, included 4,519 people between 60 and 80 years old. After completing eye exams, the people were divided into four groups depending on the severity of macular degeneration. The results of dietary questionnaires were analyzed within each group.

People who reported eating more than one serving of baked or broiled fish per week were 35% less likely to have advanced macular degeneration than those who ate less than one serving of fish per month. The people with the highest intake of omega-3 fatty acids were found to be 40% less likely to be in the advanced macular degeneration group than those with the lowest intake. Of the omega-3 fatty acids, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, one of the primary fatty acids from fish) gave the strongest protection.

While eating fats from fish seemed to protect against macular degeneration, eating high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids from animal fat seemed to increase the likelihood of having macular degeneration. “It is important to consider the balance and composition of dietary [fats] from the omega-3 and omega-6 families,” the study’s authors point out in their conclusion. “These results and those from other [studies] suggest that modifying the diet to include more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids could results in a reduction in the risk of having [advanced] age-related macular degeneration.”

(Arch Ophthalmol 2007;125:671–9)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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