Preventing Blindness with Omega-3 Fatty Acids -- MEDICA - World Forum for Medicine

Preventing Blindness with Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Picture: Mouse retina

At left, a normal mouse retina;
at right, abnormal blood vessel
growth; © Kip Connor

The study was done in mice, but a clinical trial at Children’s Hospital Boston will soon begin testing the effects of omega-3 supplementation in premature babies, who are at risk for vision loss. 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.

The researchers studied retinopathy in a mouse model, feeding the mice diets that emphasized either omega-3 fatty acids (comparable to a Japanese diet) or omega-6 fatty acids (comparable to a Western diet). Mice on the omega-3 diet, rich in DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and its precursor EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), had less initial vessel loss in the retina than the omega-6-fed mice: the area with vessel loss was 40 to 50 percent smaller. As a result, the omega-3 group had a 40 to 50 percent decrease in pathological vessel growth.

“Our studies suggest that after initial loss, vessels re-grew more quickly and efficiently in the omega-3-fed mice,” says Kip Connor, PhD, of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Department of Ophthalmology and Harvard Medical School, the study’s first author. “This increased the oxygen supply to retinal tissue, resulting in a dampening of the inflammatory ‘alarm’ signals that lead to pathologic vessel growth.”

Because omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the retina, a mere two percent change in dietary omega-3 intake was sufficient to decrease disease severity by 50 percent, the researchers note. Validating their findings, results were virtually identical in mice whose omega-3 fatty acid levels were increased through genetic means.

Omega-3 fatty acids are often lacking in Western diets. 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).; Source: Children's Hospital Boston