Vitamin & Nutrition Corner: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fatty acids are a group of nutrients that are extremely important in the function of cells, muscles, nerves and organs.  They also influence blood pressure and other cardiovascular functions through their ability to interact with hormone controls.   An “essential” fatty acid is one that our bodies can’t make naturally and must be obtained by consuming food.   Two such categories of  “essential” fatty acids are Omega-3 and Omega-6.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in high proportions within the cell membranes in the retina and they play an important role in regenerating pigments within the retinal cells responsible for vision.   A deficiency of Omega-3’s could lead to decreased visual performance in certain situations.   Omega-3’s have also been identified as an important factor in Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), which is a leading cause of permanent blindness in America.   Two recent articles, highlighting studies in Australia, showed that higher consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids were correlated with significantly lower risk for AMD.

Omega-3 fatty acids have also demonstrated significant anti-inflammatory properties in the treatment of Dry Eye Syndrome.  A 2005 study at Brigham and Women’s Hopsital of Boston showed that increased consumption of omega-3 significantly reduced symptoms associated with Dry Eye Syndrome.   The study also showed that patients who consumed tuna 5-6 times a week had almost a 70% reduction in symptoms compared to those who only consumed tuna once a week.

With respect to general health, Omega-3’s have been found to lower triglycerides and the American Diabetes Association now recommends diabetics increase their fatty acid intake by consuming 3 oz. of fish 2 to 3 times a week.

In general, the American diet shows a significant deficiency in Omega-3 fatty acids.   However, there are some easy ways to change that.   One of the greatest sources is the consumption of cold water fish.   Salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, and halibut show the greatest levels of omega-3 fatty acids, while other types of fish have much lower amounts.    Fish oil supplements have recently become popular and may serve as an alternative to consuming fish.   Flax seed may even be a better source of certain Omega-3’s, and may be found through Flax seed oil supplements.   In a future post, I will touch on how Omega-6 fatty acid and its ratio to Omega-3 is also important in maintaining ocular health.

How Much Omega-3 fatty acids?

  • 1-2 grams per day
  • or 4-5 servings of fish per week, depending on the type of fish

Where to get Omega-3 fatty acids?

  • Cold water fish:   salmon, herring, mackerel, tuna, halibut
  • Fish oil supplements
  • Flax seed oil supplements

What are the Benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids?

Reduced triglycerides

Possible reduction of blood pressure or other cardiovascular disease risks

Lowered risk for ischemic stroke

Lowered risks for Age-related Macular Degeneration

Improvement of Dry Eye Syndrome

Possible improvement of retinal function in vision