Fish oils could hold the key to saving pensioners’ sight.
Omega-3 fatty acids, abundant in oily fish, help stop tiny blood vessels from bleeding into the back of the eye, experiments show.
The finding is important because damage to retinal blood is behind a range of conditions that can lead to loss of sight, including many cases of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness in the elderly.
AMD affects more than 600,000 Britons and the number is expected to treble in the next 25 years as the population ages. There are few treatments – and no cure – for the condition.
The research, from Harvard Medical School, focused on ‘wet AMD’, the most serious form, in which central vision can be lost within months.
In the study, a diet rich in omega-3 cut damage to the blood vessels in mice with an AMD-like eye disease.
The healthy fats, which are found in mackerel, trout, herring, sardines, tuna and salmon, stopped damaging immune cells from fuelling the disease, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.
Researcher Dr Kip Connor said the fats seems to have a ‘vital role’ in eye health.
It is not clear if fish oil supplements alone will be enough help save sight in people. This is because the body may find it harder to process and make use of omega-3 as we age.
However, the findings do point to a drug related to fish oil.
With existing drugs expensive, injected directly into the eye and not effective in all cases, the researchers said that there is an urgent need for new treatments.
Dr Connor said that given the prevalence of AMD and a related form of blindness in diabetics, the ‘potential impact of this study is highly significant’.
Patients with other diseases fed by rogue blood vessels, such as cancer, may also benefit from the knowledge.
Dr Connor added: ‘It is our hope that future studies will allow us to develop specific therapeutics that harness this knowledge, resulting in greater visual outcome and quality of life for patients suffering from these sight-threatening diseases.’
In the meantime, he advises that everyone eat oily fish or take omega-3 supplements for all-round health.
Omega-3 has previously been credited with health benefits form keeping high blood pressure at bay to helping ward of Alzheimer’s disease.
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