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Rodent of the Week: How omega-3 fatty acids promote eye health

February 11, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times
  • Omega-3 fatty acids improve eye health of diabetics.
Omega-3 fatty acids improve eye health of diabetics. (Advanced Cell Technology,…)

A healthy intake of omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and fish oil supplements, has been shown to protect against retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness, particularly among people with diabetes. Now researchers have clarified how fish oil helps.

Previously, researchers from Children's Hospital Boston showed that mice fed a diet rich in omega-3s had less abnormal blood-vessel growth in the retina and less of an inflammatory response compared with mice fed omega-6 fatty acids, a less beneficial fatty acid. In the new study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the researchers showed that omega-3s promote healthy blood-vessel growth and inhibit abnormal growth. They found that a specific small molecule in omega-3s was the key to the blood-vessel stabilization.

"Our new findings give us new information on how omega-3s work that makes them an even more promising option," the lead author of the study, Dr. Lois Smith, said in a news release.

In addition, the study revealed that substances called COX enzymes, which are found in aspirin and other pain medications called NSAIDs, don't interfere with the benefits of omega-3s. However, a drug used for asthma, called zileuton, does.

The ability of fish oil to prevent eye problems is of great interest. The federal government is sponsoring a major clinical trial examining the benefits of omega-3 supplements in people with age-related macular degeneration. Smith is exploring the value of omega-3s for premature infants who are susceptible to an eye disease called retinopathy of prematurity.

Related: Omega-3s in seafood may prevent age-related macular degeneration

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