Higher Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake Reduces Diabetic Retinopathy Risk

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may help address the growing prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus and diabetic retinopathy.

Omega-3 fatty acids are known to have several health benefits, as a new study finds they are associated with a decreased risk of sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy (DR).

There is an increasing prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus, and when partnered with an increased lifespan, this results in a steady rise of disability in older diabetic patients. A large concern for this population is diabetic retinopathy, a leading global cause of vision loss that has become a major public health issue.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish and nuts and are necessary for the human body to function. Although the retina is rich in long-chain ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCω3PUFAs), and experimental models support its dietary protection against DR, clinical data is lacking.

In a study published JAMA Ophthalmology, researchers tested Mediterranean diets supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or nuts versus a control diet for primary cardiovascular prevention. There were 3614 patients recruited between the ages of 55- to 80-years-old, who had a previous diagnosis of type 2 diabetes for the study (2003-2009).

Full data was available for 3482 participants, 48% of whom were men, with an average age of 67-years-old. To access those who met the dietary LCω3PUFAs recommendation of at least 500 mg/d for primary cardiovascular prevention, researchers used a validated food-frequency questionnaire.

The results of the study showed that, of the participants, a total of 2611 (75%) met the target LCω3PUFAs recommendation. Incidence of DR was diagnosed in 69 participants during a medium follow-up of 6 years.

Once researchers adjusted for age, sex, intervention group, lifestyle and clinical variables, they found that those who met the LCω3PUFAs recommendation at baseline showed a 48% relatively reduced risk of incident sight-threatening DR compared to those who did not fulfill this recommendation.

“Our findings, which are consistent with the current model of the pathogenesis of DR and data from experimental models, add to the notion of fish-derived LCω3PUFAs as a healthy fat,” the study authors wrote. “It seems a safe bet now to spread one's food intake to include the gifts of our oceans and forests, while we consider how they can be protected for future generations and wait for large and ambitious studies of the effects of diet on diabetic retinopathy. The success of such studies in age-related macular degeneration shows that solid scientific information is worth waiting and working for.”