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News - Omega-3 fatty acid intake linked with reduced risk of age-related vision loss

By Dr Pieris Nicola PhD BSc (Hons) Dip ION

A new study reports yet another good reason to boost your intake of omega-3 fatty acids: Women who regularly eat omega-3 rich fish are less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a progressive eye disease and common cause of irreversible vision loss and blindness among the elderly. 

This latest evidence, which will appear in the June issue of Archives of Ophthalmology, mirrors earlier research linking oily fish consumption to a reduced risk of advanced AMD (reported by NutriPeopleon 10/02/2011). 

Researchers, Dr. William G. Christen and Colleagues, from Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, sifted through data from earlier research called the Harvard Women’s Health Study, in which women, 45 years and older, had filled out food questionnaires. The diet questionnaires were used to estimate how much omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids the women consumed. 

After an average 10 years of follow-up, 235 of the 38,022 women had developed visually significant AMD. The researchers looked at the relationship between omega-3 fatty acid intake and the risk of developing AMD by dividing the women into three groups based on their estimated intakes (the lowest third, middle third, and highest third of intakes). They then compared the risk of developing AMD in each of the higher groups with the risk in the lowest intake group. 

The analysis, that also took into account other factors linked to the disease (like smoking), showed a protective connection between a high intake of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and AMD. Women who consumed the most DHA had a 38% lower risk of developing AMD compared with women who consumed the lowest amounts. 

Similar results were observed for EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). For women that consumed the highest amounts of EPA, the risk of developing AMD was 34% less than those who consumed the lowest amounts. 

Researchers also looked at how the risk of AMD related to omega-6 fatty acid intake, and intake of fish and seafood. Omega-6 fatty acid intake was not significantly associated with AMD risk. However, women who had reported eating one or more servings of fish per week were 42% less likely to develop AMD than those who ate less than a serving each month. When the analysis was broken down by type of fish or seafood eaten, a reduction in the risk of AMD was seen with higher consumption of canned tuna and dark-meat fish (principally oily fish) like mackerel, salmon, and sardines. 

Lead author Dr Christen, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Associate Epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, commented: “We know that inflammatory processes are involved in AMD, and the omega-3 long-chain fatty acids do have an anti-inflammatory effect.” 

The researchers report that there is currently an ongoing trial assessing whether omega-3s can prevent progression to advanced AMD.  

Christen also added: “Our observational data needs to be confirmed in randomised trials…. But already the message seems to be simple and strong…. Fish oil, that is the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, that have long been thought to be protective against cardiovascular disease may also be of significant benefit in the primary prevention of AMD among women who have no disease or have undetected early signs of disease, and have not yet been diagnosed with AMD.” 

Stay tuned for those randomised trials.

Article References

Christen WG, Schaumberg DA, Glynn RJ et al. Dietary {omega}-3 Fatty Acid and Fish Intake and Incident Age-Related Macular Degeneration in Women. Arch Ophthalmol 2011 Mar 14. [Epub ahead of print].

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