Omega-3 may slow down the progression of age-related eye disorders

An American study finds that a high intake of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with reduced risks of developing the sight-threatening disease called age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The macular is located at the centre of your retina and contains one of the highest amounts of cones, which are cells responsible for the sharp colour vision we see during the day. With age, particularly over 50, these photoreceptors in the macular become more prone to damage. AMD can take two forms, wet and dry. Wet AMD is more severe because it acts faster. It‘s caused by the abnormal growth of blood vessels under the macular that leak out and destroy the light-sensitive cells. The dry form is more common and involves yellow deposits made up of extracellular fluid called drusen. Developing drusen as we age is normal however, larger and more numerous drusen are a sign of dry AMD.

This study is the largest known clinical eye trial. It’s titled, ‘Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS)’, and involves 4,519 participants aged between 60 and 80 years suffering from varying severities of AMD.

Participants were asked to answer food frequency questionnaires based on their dietary intake of omega-3 from foods and nutrient supplements.

It soon became apparent that those with highest intakes of omega-3 were 40% less likely to have wet AMD than patients with the lowest intakes of omega-3[1].

This impressive observation encouraged the researchers to follow for an average of 6 years, 2132 patients who had a mild-to-moderate risk of developing advanced AMD to assess whether or not higher intakes of omega-3 were associated with slowing down the progression of AMD. Experts found that those with the highest intakes of omega-3 had a 50% less chance of developing atrophy in the centre of their macula than patients with the lowest omega-3 intake[2].

Further intrigued, the researchers extend their follow up period for another 6 years, which involved 1,837 patients with a mild-to-moderate risk of developing advanced AMD.  The clinical examinations showed that the highest intake of omega-3 decreased the risk of developing dry and wet AMD by an impressive 30% compared to the lowest intake[3].

Collectively, these results suggest that higher intakes of omega-3 may be associated with less severe cases of AMD.

Reference

  1. SanGiovanni, J.P., et al., The relationship of dietary lipid intake and age-related macular degeneration in a case-control study: AREDS Report No. 20.Arch Ophthalmol, 2007.125(5): p. 671-9.
  2. SanGiovanni, J.P., et al., The relationship of dietary omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intake with incident age-related macular degeneration: AREDS report no. 23.Arch Ophthalmol, 2008. 126(9): p. 1274-9.
  3. Sangiovanni, J.P., et al., {omega}-3 Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intake and 12-y incidence of neovascular age-related macular degeneration and central geographic atrophy: AREDS report 30, a prospective cohort study from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study.Am J Clin Nutr, 2009. 90(6): p. 1601-7.
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