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Women's Eye Health Linked to Omega-3 Intake
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Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects the vision of about nine million American adults over the age of 40 … and advanced or “wet” AMD seriously impairs vision in nearly two million.
To date, there have been no randomized clinical trials testing the apparent potential of omega-3s to reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
But population studies suggest that eating fatty fish twice or more per week—or taking fish oil regularly—may play an important role in the prevention of AMD (See the “Omega-3s & Eye Health” section of our news archives).
Now, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, say their new findings “… appear to be the strongest evidence to date to support a role for omega-3 long-chain fatty acids in the primary prevention of AMD, and perhaps a reduction in the number of persons who ultimately have advanced AMD.” (Christen WG et al. 2011)
After tracking the eye health and diets of 38,022 women for ten years, the Boston-based researchers detected a strong statistical association between higher reported omega-3 intakes and a substantially lower risk of AMD … the leading cause of full and partial blindness.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to vision, and are known to exert various healthful effects in human and animal eyes.
Most recently, a different Boston group showed that in mice, omega-3 DHA selectively promoted the growth of healthy eye blood vessels and inhibited the growth of abnormal vessels (see “Omega-3 Blocked a Key Blindness Cause”).
If proven to occur in people, this effect could be of critical benefit with regard to preventing or ameliorating retinopathy … the direct cause of blindness in people with advanced AMD.
Large study in women strengthens vision-protecting promise of omega-3s
The researchers studied diet and health data collected from 38,022 female health professionals and followed up ten years later, to see how many had been diagnosed with AMD (Christen WG et al. 2011).
Their analysis showed that the women who consumed the most omega-3 DHA (from fish or fish oil) had a 38 percent lower risk of developing AMD, compared with women who consumed the lowest amount.
Likewise, the women who were estimated to consume the most omega-3 EPA enjoyed a 35 percent lower risk, although it is tricky to isolate the effects of EPA from DHA, which both occur in fish and fish oil.
And when they just looked at women’s fish intake, the analysis associated consumption of one or more servings of fish per week with a 42 percent lower risk of AMD, when compared to less than one serving per month.
These associations persisted after the researchers adjusted their results to account for other AMD risk factors … and did not change much after they adjusted for intakes of saturated, monounsaturated, and trans-form omega-6 fats.
As the Boston team concluded, their results “… indicate that regular consumption of DHA and EPA and fish was associated with a significantly decreased risk of incident AMD and may be of benefit in primary prevention of AMD.” (Christen WG et al. 2011)
The fast-growing pile of evidence from studies like this – which can’t prove that omega-3s prevent AMD or related blindness – suggest that fish is very healthful eye fare as well as critical brain food.
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  • Children's Hospital Boston (CHB). Can blindness be prevented through diet? Increasing omega-3 intake in mice reduces damaging vessel growth in the eye. June 24, 2007. Accessed at
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  • Seddon JM, George S, Rosner B. Cigarette smoking, fish consumption, omega-3 fatty acid intake, and associations with age-related macular degeneration: the US Twin Study of Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Arch Ophthalmol. 2006 Jul;124(7):995-1001.
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