Seeing Is Believing: Fatty Acid in OMEGA 3 - Fish Oil May Slow
A fatty acid found in Omega 3 (fish oil) (docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA),
may slow the rate of vision loss in people with an eye disease known as
retinitis pigmentosa (RP), reports the American Journal of Ophthalmology
RP is a group of diseases that affect the back of the inner part of the
eye, called the retina. The retina contains cells called rods and cones
that receive and process visual images. Rods enable vision in lower light,
while cones pick up colors and enable sharp vision. As these cells in the
retina are damaged by RP, night blindness, tunnel vision, and eventually
total blindness may occur. There are several forms of RP; most are the
result of gene mutations. Diet, stress, and individual metabolism influence
the severity of the disease.
DHA, which is found in high amounts in the rods and cones of the eye, is
necessary for proper vision development. Fish oil is a rich dietary source
of DHA. The body can make smaller amounts of DHA from another fatty acid
called alpha-linolenic acid, which is found in vegetable sources like
flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil. Animal studies have shown a
relationship between blood levels of DHA and levels of DHA in the retina,
suggesting that higher intake of DHA or alpha-linolenic acid might increase
DHA concentrations in the retina. People with RP have lower levels of DHA
in the blood than people without the disease.
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The current study examined a form of the disease that only affects males
(called X-linked RP) and assessed how DHA affects its progression.
Forty-one people completed the four-year trial. The participants were
randomly assigned to take either 400 mg of DHA from fish oil per day or a
placebo. Vision and retinal health were assessed to determine the response
to taking DHA.
The group that took DHA had DHA blood levels that were two-and-a-half times
higher than the levels in the placebo group. Overall, the rate of disease
progression was not statistically different between the two groups;
however, among the group that took DHA, those people who had the highest
DHA blood levels had a slower rate of disease progression. DHA also
significantly reduced the rate of rod loss in boys younger than 12 years
old, and preserved cone function in those who were 12 years or older.
The results of this new study are encouraging for people with RP, as some
benefit was associated with taking DHA. The amount of DHA used in this
study was relatively small; more than three times as much has been used to
treat other diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Further
studies are warranted to see if better results can be obtained with larger
amounts of DHA. Other studies have shown that taking vitamin A may slow the
progression of RP.
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