Could Fish Oil Save Your Sight?

By now you are probably aware of the cardiovascular benefits of fish oil. Some recent research has found that fish oil may also be protective against the most frequent cause of blindness in adults in the industrialized world, macular degeneration.

Age-related macular degeneration is a condition of slow deterioration of the retina in the macula, a yellow-shaped oval at the center of the retina. This form of blindness starts at the center of the field of vision and spreads to the sides, usually over a period of several years, and usually after the age of 60.

Macular degeneration can be "wet" or "dry." The exudative or wet form of macular degeneration occurs when blood vessels just behind the retina begin to leak. They repair themselves with scar tissue that cuts off the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the retina above them. This creates a blind spot that can grow as the scar tissue grows.

The dry form of macular degeneration occurs when protein deposits called drusen accumulate on the surface of the retina. A result of inflammation of the retina, these drusen can accumulate and cause blind spots, but sometimes they spontaneously go away.

In 2008, a group of researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found that eating one serving of oily fish a week cut the risk of developing wet macular degeneration almost in half.

Then in June 2011 the research team conducting the Rotterdam Study of macular degeneration announced that it had found an epigenetic connection between genes for macular degeneration and lowering the risk of macular degeneration by additional consumption of zinc and the EPA and DHA fatty acids found in fish.

Zinc and fish oil reduce the risk by nearly half

  • People who carry two copies of the CFH Y402H gene have 125% greater risk of developing age-related macular degeneration than people who don't. If they consume relatively high amounts of zinc, however, that risk is reduced to just an additional 27%. And if they consume relatively high amounts of the omega-3 essential fatty acids in fish oil, DHA and EPA, that risk is reduced to just an additional 30%. Zinc and fish oil do not eliminate the risk of age-related macular degeneration, but they reduce it by nearly half.
  • People who carry the gene LOC387715 A69S can reduce their risk of age-related macular degeneration to 5% less than the general population if they consume relatively high amounts of DHA and EPA provided in fish oil.
  • Both groups benefited from beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

"Relatively high" levels of DHA and EPA are not especially high. They are less than the amount of DHA and EPA provided in a single capsule of Xtend-Life, LEF, or New Vitality fish oils. And "relatively high" levels of zinc are equivalent to just taking a 25 mg supplement once a day.

You could have genetic testing to tell you whether you have one of the genes that predisposes you to age-related macular degeneration, for approximately US $3000. Or you can simply take these supplements for a lot less.

Supplementation is not the only consideration in lowering the risk of macular degeneration. A study in Japan, where diets are generally well-balanced, found it was more important to stop smoking to prevent this eye disease of later life.

If you already eat fish every day and you take zinc, and you eat lots of colorful vegetables that provided beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, it is probably more important to stop smoking, if you smoke, than it is to take fish oil supplements.

But if fish is not a part of your daily diet, taking fish oil, zinc, and a balanced beta-carotene and lutein/zeaxanthin formula may prevent age-related macular degeneration, especially the form that is most devastating to sight.

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