Omega-3s—Essential for Your Eyes, Too

Healthnotes Newswire (January 4, 2007)—Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil have received much attention for their role in preventing and treating heart disease and several other chronic conditions. Now it looks like they could also help keep your eyes healthy.

According to a new study, the fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) might help prevent a serious type of eye disease called primary open angle glaucoma. The most common form of glaucoma, affecting about 33 million people around the world, it is also the leading cause of blindness among African Americans and Hispanic Americans. The Inuit people, who eat a lot of omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish, tend to have a lower risk of the disease.

Glaucoma causes the pressure inside of the eye to rise (increased intraocular pressure), which then puts pressure on the optic nerve. Late in the disease process, glaucoma can cause blind spots, blurred vision, poor night vision, halos around lights, and loss of peripheral vision. Left untreated, glaucoma can lead to permanent vision loss.

An ophthalmologist can measure the pressure inside the eyes and prescribe treatment, if necessary. Since glaucoma doesn’t cause any symptoms in its early stages, regular eye examinations are essential.

It is thought that EPA and DHA might increase blood flow to the inner structures of the eye. When people with glaucoma are given these fatty acids as supplements, their condition improves. The new study published in Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids measured blood levels of EPA and DHA in people with glaucoma to see if they might be deficient, and compared them with their siblings without the disease.

People with glaucoma had abnormally low levels of EPA and DHA in their blood compared with their healthy siblings. This is noteworthy, since DHA concentrates in structures in the eye and helps to develop and maintain healthy vision.

People with glaucoma are thought to have excessive blood “stickiness,” which could lead to blood clumping and improper blood flow to the eyes. EPA and DHA have blood thinning actions, which might enhance circulation to the eyes.

The authors of the study concluded, “The current study indicates that patients with primary open angle glaucoma have abnormal blood fatty acid composition.” They commented, “These findings are significant, since EPA and DHA could modulate impaired systemic microcirculation and optic blood flow and optic neuropathy, which are the main physiological changes associated with glaucoma.”

(Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2006;74:157–63)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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