It has long been known and recommended that we all include more omega-3 fatty acids in our diets. Maybe you follow the Mediterranean Diet that has a great reputation for providing these essential elements or you just love your fish and get what your body needs from the sea. No matter what source you use, this week more support for this eating behavior has justified the movement. It has now been proven that women who get lots of omega-3 fatty acids are less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD), an eye disease affecting millions of older adults in the U.S.

AMD is caused by abnormal blood vessel growth behind the retina or breakdown of light-sensitive cells within the retina itself, both of which can cause serious vision impairment. Some 1.7 million Americans have severe vision loss due to the disease, making it the leading cause of blindness in older adults.

Researchers looked at all food sources of the important fatty acids, the risk of AMD was 38% lower in women with the top one-third DHA intake compared to those with the bottom one-third intake. For those who got a lot of EPA, the risk was 34% smaller.

Cold-water oceanic fish oils are rich in DHA. Most of the DHA in fish and complex organisms with access to cold-water oceanic foods originates in photosynthetic and heterotrophic microalgae, and becomes increasingly concentrated in organisms, as they move up the food chain.

Interesting enough, fish do not naturally produce EPA, but obtain it from the algae they consume. It is available to humans from some non-animal sources (e.g., commercially, from microalgae). Microalgae are actually now being developed as a commercial source. Microalgae, and supplements derived from it, are excellent alternative sources of EPA and other fatty acids, since fish often contain other toxins due to human pollution.

William G. Christen of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston states:

“Other than giving up cigarette smoking or never starting smoking, there are no known ways to prevent AMD. We also looked at the food intake of (just) fish and the data were consistent there.”

Christen and colleagues used data from earlier research called the Women’s Health Study, in which women 45 years and up had filled out extensive diet questionnaires. It may be a bit too early to recommend that people start supplementing their diet with fish or with fish oil supplements to stave off eye disease only because one can’t rule out the possibility that women who got lots of omega-3s were simply healthier people.

After 10 years of study, 235 out of 38,022 women had developed AMD severe enough to damage their vision.

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids. They are necessary for human health but the body can’t make them; you have to get them through food. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other seafood including algae and krill, some plants, and nut oils. Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. They have also become popular because they may reduce the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon) at least 2 times a week.

Source: The Archives of Opthamology

Written by Sy Kraft, B.A.