Eye-sential Omega 3

Posted on: 21 October 2016 by Gareth Hargreaves

Your eyes are what you eat - consuming foods rich in omega 3, such as tuna, may reduce the risk of dry eye syndrome, in addition to protecting the heart.

omega-3 fish oils

Benefits of 'good fat' outweigh risks of mercury.

Your eyes are what you eat - consuming foods rich in omega 3, such as tuna, may reduce the risk of dry eye syndrome, in addition to protecting the heart.

Many people, predominantly women, suffer from dry eye syndrome, a painful and debilitating eye disease. Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and Schepens Eye Research Institute (SERI) found that the amount, type and ratio of essential fatty acids in the diet may play a key role in dry eye prevention in women. The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Dry eye syndrome is characteriized by a decline in the quality or quantity of tears that normally bathe the eye to keep it moist and functioning well. The condition causes symptoms such as pain, irritation, dryness, and/or a sandy or gritty sensation. If untreated, severe dry eye syndrome can eventually lead to scarring or ulceration of the cornea, and loss of vision. Victims can experience symptoms so constant and severe that reading, driving, working and participating in other vision-related activities of daily life are difficult or impossible.

"Dry eye syndrome impacts quality of life, productivity and safety for millions of people. Unfortunately, there is little advice clinicians can offer about its prevention," according to Dr Biljana Miljanovic of the Divisions of Preventive Medicine and Aging at BWH. The study set out to examine how changing dietary habits, primarily a shift in the balance of essential fatty acids people are consuming, may be associated with onset of this eye disease.

"We found that a high intake of omega 3 fatty acids, often referred to as a 'good' fat, commonly found in fish and walnuts, is associated with a protective effect. Conversely, a higher ratio of omega 6, a fat found in many cooking and salad oils and animal meats, compared to omega 3 in the diet, may increase the risk of dry eye syndrome."

A dietary ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 greater than 15:1 was associated with a 2.5-fold increased risk of dry eye syndrome in women. Currently, the average diet consists of a similarly high ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids.

Women with the highest levels of omega 3 in their diets reduced their risk of dry eye syndrome by 20 per cent compared to women with the lowest levels of this fat in their diet. Tuna consumption reduced the risk of dry eye syndrome. Women who reported eating at least five servings of tuna per week had a 68 per cent reduced risk of dry eye syndrome compared to women who consumed one serving per week. Other fish types that have lower levels of omega 3 fatty acids did not appear to protect against dry eye syndrome.

"We are accustomed to the mantra 'you are what you eat' and our study suggests that this also applies to a person's vision," said Dr Debra Schaumberg, clinical associate scientist at SERI, and associate epidemiologist at BWH. "Based on this report, preventing dry eye syndrome is another potential reason to follow a diet rich in tuna and other foods plentiful in omega 3 fatty acids."

Fish and shellfish are rich in protein and minerals, and being rich in long-chain omega 3 fatty acids, oily fish reduce the risk of death from heart disease and protect against stroke too.

Despite these health benefits, most people in the UK consume very little fish. The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey of adults aged from 19 to 64 years showed that 74 per cent of participants did not eat oily fish, 65 per cent did not eat coated and/or fried white fish and 82 per cent did not eat other white fish and dises. Average consumption of white fish was 103g per week and oily fish 50g.

While omega 3 fatty acids are thought to aid in the neurological development of unborn babies, making fish a true 'brain food', fish are also a major source of mercury exposure, and methyl mercury (MeHg) is implicated in impairment of cognitive development and IQ. For its many health benefits women of childbearing age are advised to keep eating fish, but keep away from some species likely to contain more mercury - shark, swordfish, marlin, king mackerel, tilefish - to limit the amount of tuna they eat to two fresh tuna steaks a week or four medium-sized cans, and limit total fish intake to about two meals a week.

Other adults need not worry unduly about mercury in fish. The Food Standards Agency has just published surveys looking at the levels of a number of contaminants - including mercury, lead, cadmium, organotins from paints, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from oil and combustion processes - in fish collected from a range of locations around the UK. The levels have been found to be low, and similar to or have decreased since they were previously measured.

The FSA advises that as part of a healthy balanced diet the majority of people should eat more fish. People should eat at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily. There's no reason not to enjoy four portions a week, or you can supplement your intake with Omega-3 rich fish oil, such as Seven Seas Simply Timeless range.


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