Researchers at Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, wanted to know how the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) would be affected in a population of older people who regularly ate fish and seafood, since some varieties are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. A diet rich in omega-3s probably protects against advanced AMD, the leading cause of blindness in whites in the United States, according to the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and other recent studies. High concentrations of omega-3s have been found in the eye's retina, and evidence is mounting that the nutrient may be essential to eye health. The new research, led by Sheila K. West, PhD, was part of the Salisbury Eye Evaluation (SEE) study.
Food intake information with details on fish and shellfish consumed was collected over one year using a validated questionnaire for 2,391 participants aged 65 to 84 years who lived along Maryland's Eastern Shore. After dietary assessment was complete, participants were evaluated for AMD. Those with no AMD were classified as controls (1,942 persons), 227 had early AMD, 153 had intermediate-stage disease, and 68 had advanced AMD. In the advanced AMD group, the macular area of the retina exhibited either neovascularization (abnormal blood vessel growth and bleeding) or a condition called geographic atrophy. Both conditions can result in blindness or severe vision loss.
“Our study corroborates earlier findings that eating omega-3-rich fish and shellfish may protect against advanced AMD.” Dr. West said. “While participants in all groups, including controls, averaged at least one serving of fish or shellfish per week, those who had advanced AMD were significantly less likely to consume high omega-3 fish and seafood,” she said.
The study also looked at whether dietary zinc from crab and oyster consumption impacted advanced AMD risk, but no significant relationship was found. Zinc is also considered protective against AMD and is included in an AMD-vitamin/nutrient supplement developed from the AREDS study. Dr. West speculated that her study found no effect because the levels of zinc obtained from seafood/fish were low compared to supplement levels.
The research is published in the December issue of Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids appears to protect seniors against the onset of a serious eye disease known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a new analysis indicates.”Our study corroborates earlier findings that eating omega-3-rich fish and shellfish may protect against advanced AMD,” study lead author Sheila K. West, of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, said in a news release from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
“While participants in all groups, including controls, averaged at least one serving of fish or shellfish per week, those who had advanced AMD were significantly less likely to consume high omega-3 fish and seafood,” she added.
The observations are published in the December issue of Ophthalmology.
West and her colleagues based their findings on a fresh analysis of a one-year dietary survey conducted in the early 1990s. The poll involved nearly 2,400 seniors between the ages of 65 and 84 living in Maryland's Eastern Shore region, where fish and shellfish are eaten routinely. After their food intake was assessed, participants underwent eye exams. About 450 had AMD, including 68 who had an advanced stage of the disease, which can lead to severe vision impairment or blindness. In the United States, AMD is the major cause of blindness in whites, according to background information in the news release.
Prior evidence suggested that dietary zinc is similarly protective against AMD, so the researchers looked to see if zinc consumption from a diet of oysters and crabs reduced risk of AMD, but no such association was seen. However, the study authors theorized that the low dietary zinc levels relative to zinc supplements could account for the absence of such a link.
Anand Swaroop, chief of the neurobiology, neuro-degeneration, and repair laboratory at the U.S. National Eye Institute, interpreted the findings with caution. “It does make huge sense theoretically,” he said. “Photoreceptors have a very high concentration of a specific type of fatty acids and lipids, relative to many other cell types. So it would make sense that omega-3 consumption would be beneficial. The theory is sound.”
“However, I wouldn't want people to start taking grams of omega-3 to protect against AMD based on this finding because I'm not really sure that this study has sufficient power to draw any conclusions,” Swaroop added. “This is just a one-year analysis and AMD is a long-term disease. The correlation is important, and it should be explored further. But we need larger studies with longer term follow-up before being able to properly assess the impact.”
SOURCE: Anand Swaroop, Ph.D senior investigator and chief of neurobiology, neurodegneration, and repair laboratory, U.S. National Eye Institute, Bethesda, Md.; American Academy of Ophthalmology, news release, Dec. 1, 2010