Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness, one of the most serious complications of diabetes. But omega 3 fatty acids can help protect us from it. Fish oil, particularly from fatty fish like salmon and sardines, is our best food source of omega 3. Capsules of fish or krill oil are a good choice for people who don't eat much fish.
Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue that lines the inner surface of our eyes. But the typical American diet is awfully low in omega-3 and high in omega 6, which competes with omega 3 to get into the cells of our bodies, as I wrote here last year.
We've known from studies of mice that omega 3 can prevent retinopathy. When researchers fed mice diets rich in omega 3, the mice had nearly 50 percent less pathologic vessel growth in the retina than mice fed diets rich in omega 6. But many of us, myself included, discount mice studies, because we are men and women, not mice, and all of us are much bigger and many of us are much brighter.
Now a study from a research team at Children's Hospitl Boston shows the way omega 3 protects mice -- and hopefully us people -- from blindness. A recent issue of Science Tranlational Medicine reported this study .
The researchers isolated the specific omega-3 compound that has beneficial effects in mice. Technically, it is a metabolite of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, known as 4-HDHA), and the enzyme that produces it (5-lipoxygenase, or 5-LOX.
For people with diabetes this is important research. "Between 40 to 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy," according to the National Eye Institute . "The longer someone has diabetes, the more likely he or she will get diabetic retinopathy."
Now, we have a much better chance of stopping diabetic retinopathy in its tracks. The first line of defense is our diet, specifically increasing the amount of omega 3 and reducing how much omega 6 fatty acids we eat.