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Fish oil, omega-3 prevent retinopathy

Armen Hareyan's picture

Fish-oil, omega-3 supplements may protect against blindness from abnormal blood vessel growth in the eyes, according to the study published in the online journal Nature Medicine.

Abnormal vessel growth is the cause of retinopathy of prematurity, diabetic retinopathy in adults, and "wet" age-related macular degeneration, three leading causes of blindness.

In retinopathy, blood vessels in the eye's retina are damaged, causing the organ to be deprived of oxygen. New vessels that form afterward are often abnormal, leaky and overabundant. The abnormal vessels finally pull the retina away from its supporting layer, and this retinal detachment ultimately causes blindness.

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The researchers, led by Lois Smith and Kip Connor of Children's Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School, and John Paul SanGiovanni of the National Eye Institute (NEI) studied retinopathy in mice. They found that mice with retinopathy given diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids had less blood vessel loss in the retina than the omega-6-fed mice.

Human clinical trials will soon begin at Children's Hospital in Boston testing the effects in premature babies, who are at risk for vision loss. According to the Bethesda, Maryland-based Eye Institute, about 40,000 premature infants are diagnosed with retinopathy every year.

Studies find that taking dietary supplements of Omega 3 could also lower blood pressure in people with hypertension.

The World Health Organisation has identified retinopathy as a leading cause of vision impairment in children in the developing world. In rich nations, the disease has also become more common with advances in medical care that have vastly improved the survival rates of highly premature infants.

Aside from fish-oil supplements, the most widely available source of omega-3 fatty acids is coldwater oily fish (wild salmon, herry, mackerel, anchovies, sardines). The compounds can also be made synthetically from algae or other non-fish sources.