Why Fish Oil Is Important For Eye Health
Although we don’t commonly think of a decline in vision as a serious determinant of health, eye health is gradually becoming a significant global health issue. This is most likely due to an aging population, increased screen times, and increasing rates of diabetes in the western world. In Canada, one in seven people will be diagnosed with at least one of the following in their lifetime: macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, or glaucoma.1
The Good News
The good news is that most eye diseases can be prevented or limited with modifiable lifestyle factors like stopping smoking, decreasing alcohol intake, protecting your eyes from the sun and maintaining an active lifestyle. Diet is a key factor when maintaining overall health so many studies have been looking at nutritional factors and their role in slowing the onset or limiting eye diseases like the ones listed above. Omega 3 fatty acids were found to be one of the most important nutritional elements to assess when looking at eye health.2
How do omegas protect our eyes?
While the exact mechanism as to why omega 3 fatty acids prevent eye disease is not known, they most likely act in a protective role by improving blood flow to the eye, act as an anti-inflammatory and increase drainage of intraocular fluid from the eye (which can build up in diseases like glaucoma).2 The retina of the eye also has a very high concentration of omega 3 fatty acids, specifically DHA (see image below). Studies that look at the concentration of DHA in those with eye disease, find lower levels than participants with healthy eyes.3
Distribution of omega-3 fatty acids in the body. Arterburn LM, Hall EB, Oken H. Distribution, interconversion, and dose response of n− 3 fatty acids in humans. The American Journal of clinical Nutrition. 2006 Jun 1;83(6):1467S-76S.
A common finding in those who supplement with omega 3 fatty acids, is that they have fewer dry eye symptoms than those who don’t. This may be due to an increase in an oily film that covers the eye with omega 3 fatty acid supplementation. This film is naturally produced by the body but can decrease with both age and disease. An increase in the moisture of the eyes by this oil (through the supplementation of fatty acids) decreases the symptoms of dry eyes. Some studies have even looked at using omega 3 fatty acids topically for a dry eye treatment which can result in decreased inflammation and less reporting of dry eyes.2
All About Balance
The ratio of omega 6 (inflammatory) to omega 3 (anti-inflammatory) fatty acids in the diet is also an important factor to consider when looking at the role of omega 3s in eye health. Having too many processed oils and foods and not enough monounsaturated fatty acids from foods like avocados and fish, can throw off this balance which can decrease the potency of omega 3 fatty acids in the body.4
In a large study called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study by the National Eye Institute, participants who had the highest intake of omega 3 fatty acids in their diet had a 30% decrease in macular degeneration diagnosis over a 12-year follow up period. In the study, the authors mention the impact that the overall anti-inflammatory diet had was a significant factor, rather than just the omega 3 fatty acids alone. Therefore, it is also important to consider limiting the consumption of omega 6 fatty acids.4
However, some studies have looked at using omega 3 fatty acids as a clinical intervention outside of the diet and have found positive results. A study called the Tozal study looked at supplementing omega 3 fatty acids along with other antioxidants for 6 months in individuals with age-related macular degeneration. When compared to the placebo group, the supplemental group had statistically significant increased vision test scores.5
Getting your omega 3 fatty acidsFoods
If you’re looking to increase your omega 3 fatty acid intake you can up your consumption of the following foods: Fish (halibut, mackerel, anchovies, salmon, sardines, herring, trout), nuts and seeds (walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds), tofu, avocados, and seaweed.Supplements
Your health care practitioner may suggest that you take an omega 3 fatty acid supplement in order to meet your specific requirements. When taking an omega 3 supplement, look for a pharmaceutical grade, triglyceride form of omega 3s to maximize absorption and benefits while lowering toxic risk.*Please always check with a healthcare practitioner before starting any supplement*
- Canadian Association of Optometrists: https://opto.ca/document/cao-eye-health-statistics
- Hodge, W., Barnes, D., Schachter, H. M., Pan, Y., Lowcock, E. C., Zhang, L., ... & Lewin, G. (2005). Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on eye health. In Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-assessed Reviews [Internet]. Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (UK).
- Querques, G., Forte, R., & Souied, E. H. (2011). Retina and omega-3. Journal of nutrition and metabolism, 2011.
- Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. (2001). A randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of high-dose supplementation with vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc for age-related macular degeneration and vision loss: AREDS report no. 8. Archives of ophthalmology, 119(10), 1417.
- Cangemi, F. E. (2007). TOZAL Study: an open case control study of an oral antioxidant and omega-3 supplement for dry AMD. BMC ophthalmology, 7(1), 3.