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What is the Link between Healthy Fats and Better Eye Health?

by Aaron Barriga(more info)

listed in vision and eye sight, originally published in issue 239 - July 2017

In the pursuit of better health, most people try to cut out fatty foods from their diets, which is a good move. However, it’s important to remember that not all fats are bad for us. In fact, our bodies need certain kinds of fat in order to function properly, especially healthy fats that they cannot produce on their own. Healthy fats are crucial for the development of cells, organs, nerves and muscles, as well as their functioning. They also help our bodies regulate heart rate, blood pressure and clotting by producing compounds similar to hormones. In addition, the intake of healthy fats may be a critical factor in maintaining better vision and eye health.

Salmon Fillets

What Are Healthy Fats?

The building blocks of fat are known as fatty acids, and what we call healthy fats are actually essential fatty acids (EFAs). Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are two EFA types that promote better health, but our bodies cannot produce them on their own. The only way we can get these essential fatty acids into our system is by eating foods that include them.

Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly good for eye health, and these include:

  • DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid);
  • EPA (Eicoapentaenoic Acid);
  • ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid).

While there is no RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for omega-3 fatty acids so far, research by the American Heart Association suggests that a total daily intake of 500 mg-1.8 grams of DHA and EPA can reduce the risk of cardiac problems. A daily intake of 1.5-3 grams of ALA also helps maintain better health.

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits these fatty acids offer for our vision and eye health, as well as common sources from where we can get them.

Why Do We Need to Include More Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Our Diet?

Typically, there’s an imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids if our diet includes a lot of processed foods and red meat. Without a balanced intake of the two, you may be at risk of serious health issues, including depression, heart disease, asthma, arthritis and even cancer.

Health and nutrition experts advise a ratio of 1:4 for these two EFA types, but the typical diet may contain 10-30 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids. This is not only harmful for your general health, but may also put your eyesight and vision at risk. According to studies, a lower ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 (1:4 or less) in your diet can reduce the risk of dry eyes as well as macular degeneration.

DHA-rich foods and supplements can help promote retinal function, reduce inflammation in the eyes and aid with the recovery of visual acuity as well. A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids may decrease healing time for corneal epithelium abrasions, i.e. injuries to the outer surface of the eye, such as scrapes or scratches caused by contact lenses or fingernails.

Most importantly, omega-3 fatty acids promote the production and secretion of tears and tear film quality, protecting eyes against infection and inflammation. The tear film that forms over eyes not only keeps them lubricated and washes out bacteria and debris, but also helps with the focus of light on the retina for better visual acuity.

How Do Healthy Fats Help with Eye Health for Different Age Groups?

Healthy fats are an essential dietary element for every age group, and here are some of the eye health benefits they offer for each:

  • Infants and Children – According to various studies, omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA help with vision development in infants, and are naturally found in breast milk. They are also added to food supplements and baby formulas, to provide the essential EFAs children need during their early development.
    Intake of omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA during pregnancy can also help with healthy vision development in babies and young children. In fact, DHA makes up over 33% of fatty acids in the retina, and this fatty acid is absorbed by the fetus for retinal development during the last 3 months of pregnancy.

    Here are a couple of examples where research points at a link between the two:
    • Research conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health shows that visual acuity at 2 and 4 months of age was higher for healthy pre-term infants whose formula was supplemented with DHA, compared to infants who were fed non-supplemented formula.
    • A study published by Canadian researchers in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed better visual acuity at 2 months of age in infant girls whose mothers received DHA supplements from the 4th month of pregnancy until delivery
  • Adults – Dry eye syndrome is a common complaint among 1/3rd of all adults, especially those who spend long hours in front of a television or computer screen. Other than extended periods of “screen time”, it can also occur as a side-effect of certain medication, after driving for extended periods or even during menopause.
    If you have dry eye syndrome, your eyes do not produce enough tears to keep them lubricated and wash away bacteria or debris. This makes them more prone to inflammation and infection, and may even lead to vision loss if the problem goes untreated for too long.
    Along with lubricating eye drops, omega-3 EFAs may help with prevention and treatment of dry eyes. They may also reduce the risk of other vision-related issues such as glaucoma and high eye pressure, by improving intraocular fluid drainage from your eyes.
  • Seniors – Dry eyes and AMD (age-related macular degeneration) are two common problems that adults face as they get older. Not only does consuming more omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of AMD in seniors, but studies conducted in India by the Advanced Eye Centre show that omega-3 oil supplements could improve the symptoms of dry eye syndrome by up to 105%!

Common Food Sources for Omega-3 EFAs

Cold-water fish, such as salmon, herring, sardines, and tuna, are considered the best natural sources of DHA and EPA. Farmed fish may contain more chemicals and pollutants than wild-caught ones, but fish oil is also very high in beneficial EFAs and makes a good substitute if you don’t know where your fish comes from.

Ideally, you should try to include two weekly servings of fish in your diet, or supplement with fish oil for better eye health. You can get these supplements as capsules or liquids, some of which are flavored for those who don’t like the taste of fish.

Here’s a comparative list of DHA and EPA content in fish and fish oil:

  • Salmon - A grilled half fillet of Atlantic salmon gives you 3.89 grams of DHA and EPA, Chinook salmon provides 2.68 grams, and pink salmon contains 1.60 grams;
  • Mackerel – A grilled fillet of Pacific mackerel contains 3.25 grams of DHA and EPA;
  • Sardine Oil – A tablespoonful gives you 2.83 grams of DHA and EPA;
  • Cod Liver Oil – A tablespoonful gives you 2.43 grams of DHA and EPA;
  • Herring Oil – A tablespoonful gives you 1.43 grams of DHA and EPA;
  • Sardines – A 3 oz. serving of canned sardines (in oil) gives you 0.90 grams of DHA and EPA;
  • Tuna - A 3 oz. serving of canned white tuna (in water) gives you 0.73 grams of DHA and EPA.

Flaxseed oil is another good source of ALA and other omega-3 fatty acids, along with walnuts, flaxseeds, and dark green leafy veggies. Vegetarians can get EFAs from these sources, but it’s important to note that our bodies process DHA and EPA from fish more easily than from nuts or vegetables.

Along with DHA and EPA, your body also gets antioxidants such as vitamin A and astaxanthin if you include fish, fish oil and krill oil in your diet. These are also essential for better eye health and protection against infection/inflammation.

Quick Tips for Improving Your Diet and EFA Intake

We are what we eat, and our dietary choices have a direct link to our health.
Below are a few simple changes that will make your daily diet all the more healthy and nutritious. Following these small changes will surely restore healthy eyesight:

  • Eat balanced meals that include fish, fresh fruits and green, leafy vegetables. Avoid consuming too much red meat;
  • Eat more foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids and fewer of those that are high in omega-6 fatty acids;
  • Reduce your intake of trans fats, hydrogenated oils and margarine by removing fried and processed foods from your diet;
  • Use olive oil for cooking meals, instead of hydrogenated oils and other cooking oils that contain more omega-6 fatty acids.

Eating healthy is a great way to improve the health your eyes as well as the rest of your body, but don’t rely on that alone. If you face any vision or eye issues, consult a specialist for examination and treatment. Many eye problems seem minor at first, but they can get worse if they’re neglected. Don’t take that chance!

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About Aaron Barriga

Aaron Barriga is the online marketing manager for Insight Vision Center. With a knack for understanding medical procedures, and an interest in eye and vision health, Aaron loves to share what he knows and what he learns. He blogs with a mission of informing readers about the latest eye care technology and other topics related to eye care especially LASIK. He loves collecting coasters from the different bars and restaurants he visits during his travels. Aaron may be contacted via aaron@insightvisioncenter.com    www.insightvisioncenter.com/

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