60% of us are unaware of the links between what we eat and the health of our eyes.

Vision Matters

Our Omega 3 fish oil eye health guide

If you care about your health, you might be rigorous when it comes to attending dental or medical check-ups. But if your optician’s starting to suspect you’ve left the country, it may be time to get back in touch.

According to the State of the Nation Eye Health survey of 2017, 25% of UK adults haven’t had an eye test in the past two years or at all. And a quarter of UK adults who say their sight isn’t as good as it was still haven’t seen an optometrist about their concerns. And that’s despite 78% of us saying our sight is the sense we fear losing the most. Although we live in such a visual world, taking care of our eyes appears to be something we put off until a later date. But what if we told you that out of the two million people in the UK living with significant sight loss, half of this loss of vision is avoidable? This is according to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

We all know that smoking, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure can damage our health, but few of us are aware of just how devastating they can be to our sight.

And then there’s our diets. A poor diet can also put your eyesight at risk, yet 60% of us are unaware of the links between what we eat and the health of our eyes, according to Vision Matters, the organisation behind National Eye Health Week.

But besides a healthy diet full of antioxidants, vitamins and healthy whole grains, there’s another ingredient you need to add to your eye-health menu and that’s Omega 3.

Eating more oily fish or taking an Omega 3 eye supplement is such a simple thing to do each day, but it could see you continuing to read the small print well into your old age. So what is the link between fish oil and eye health and how exactly does Omega 3 work to keep our eyes healthy? Read our Omega 3 eye health guide to find out.

Is Omega 3 good for your eyes?

Healthy fats are incredibly important for both good vision and general eye health, but the two types of essential fatty acid found in Omega 3 (DHA and EPA) are particularly useful.

Like the brain, your eyes are highly enriched with Omega 3 fatty acids. In fact they started to accumulate there right from when you were in your mother’s womb. DHA is known to be vital for healthy eye development in children, from pre-birth to infancy. In a study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found infants whose mothers received DHA supplements from their fourth month of pregnancy were less likely to have below-average visual acuity at two months of age, than babies whose mothers did not receive the Omega 3 eye supplements.

After you’re born your eyes still need a constant supply of DHA to work at their best. DHA is found in large quantities in breast milk and studies have shown that healthy, pre-term infants fed on DHA supplemented formula have significantly better visual acuity at two and four months of age, compared with similar pre-term infants who were fed a formula that did not contain the Omega 3 eye supplement.

Even when you’re all grown up, very high levels of DHA can be found in the retina, the layer of tissue that lines the inside of the eye and receives the image formed by the lens. And while it’s not known exactly why, DHA accounts for over half the total fatty acid groups present in the rod outer segment membranes (the cells involved in your peripheral vision that can function in lower light, making them almost entirely responsible for night vision), a proportion higher than is found in any other tissues.

But besides being a major structural component of the eye itself, Omega 3 plays an important role in keeping eyes healthy. Having a high concentration of Omega 3, particularly DHA, optimises the fluidity of your photoreceptor membranes and maintains retinal integrity, all of which help to keep your vision clear.

It’s not just the DHA in Omega 3 that gives your eyes a boost. The other essential fatty acid found in fish oil, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), also plays a vital anti-inflammatory role  which is important when you consider chronic inflammation is a major factor in several retinal diseases, including macular degeneration.

What are the main Omega 3 fatty acid benefits for eye health?

Omega 3 works hard to keep your eyes healthy but what are its main benefits? Take a look at some of the main causes of sight loss and eye problems and find out how Omega 3 can help with each one.

Omega 3 and age-related macular degeneration

According to the RNIB, age related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common form of visual impairment in adults over the age of 55 living in developed countries. In the UK alone, AMD accounts for 75% of blindness in people aged 85 and above.

If you have AMD, the cells of your macula (the central part of the retina) stop working as you age, which causes damage to the central part of your field of vision, making it hard to read or recognise faces. A diet rich in antioxidants has been shown to prevent AMD and even slow its progression once it’s started.

Omega 3 has also been shown to play a preventive role in the development of the condition. The retina uses DHA both to protect its pigment cells from damage and to regenerate the outer section of the eye’s photoreceptors to process light. And as AMD is an inflammatory condition, the essential fatty acid EPA is able to help by working as a potent anti-inflammatory.

Randomised studies show that people with high levels of EPA and DHA in their red blood cell membrane were significantly protected against AMD compared with those with permanently low EPA/DHA levels. Another study from the Archives of Ophthalmology asked more than 3,000 people over the age of 49 to fill in a questionnaire about their diet. They found those who ate more fish were less likely to have macular degeneration.

Omega 3 and diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of blindness in working age people in the UK. The disease progresses rapidly and can happen in both early and late-onset diabetes. If left untreated, 50% of those in late stages of the disease will be blind within two years.

It’s all down to out-of-control blood sugar, which causes changes to the little blood vessels at the back of the eye. Sometimes this can lead to the growth of new blood vessels, which leak blood or fluid. When this happens at the macula area, the middle of the retina, these fluids cause the macula to swell, leading to a condition known as macular oedema - and a blank patch right in the middle of your vision.

According to a 2016 report published in JAMA Ophthalmology, people who consumed at least two servings of oily fish per week had a much lower risk of diabetic retinopathy. It’s thought that a diet high in Omega 3 reduces the formation of the harmful new blood vessels.

Omega 3 and glaucoma

If you suffer from glaucoma it means your optic nerve is damaged by the pressure of the fluid inside your eye. Most types have no symptoms, so a regular eye test is the only way to know if you have it.

Omega 3 benefits glaucoma by encouraging proper drainage of intraocular fluid from the eye, decreasing the pressure.

A 2018 study published in JAMA Ophthalmology looked at data from 3,865 people to see if their daily dietary intake of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) had any bearing on their glaucoma risk.
Results showed participants who took in higher daily quantities of EPA and DHA were much less likely to have glaucoma.

Does Omega 3 help dry eyes?

If your eyes look red, feel scratchy or sore, or you’ve noticed it’s getting harder to see while driving at night, you could have a condition known as ‘dry eye’. Thought to affect some five million British people over 45, it can be brought on by anything from staring at a computer screen to starting the menopause, but it might also be a symptom of an underlying health problem. And, confusingly, one of the symptoms is to make your eyes feel watery.

Dry eye affects both the tears and the film that covers your eyes, both of which work to keep your eyes feeling comfortable and moist.  

Clinical trials have shown that Omega 3 helps dry eye. In a three-month study from 2015, 478 people with dry eye as a result of excessive computer use were given either two Omega 3 supplements a day or an olive oil placebo. The results showed that those taking the fish oil had a greater reduction in dry-eye symptoms than those taking the placebo. They were also found to have more conjunctival goblet cells on the surface of their eyes, the cells responsible for lubrication.

How does Omega 3 help dry eye?

Omega 3 is thought to help in three ways. Firstly the EPA in Omega 3 can soothe inflammation while the DHA increases tear production and improves the eye’s oil film. It’s so useful in improving the symptoms of dry eye that it’s known to reduce the need for treatment with artificial tears.

The best fish oil you can take for eye health will have high levels of EPA and DHA per teaspoon. This information should be easy to find, not buried in the small print.

How much Omega 3 to take for dry eyes?

Thinking of taking Omega 3 for red eyes? You’ll need to take an adequate dose. In most of the trials we’ve mentioned that saw a benefit, the participants were taking more than 2,700mg of EPA and DHA each day.

The RNIB suggest an even higher dose (2,000mg three times a day) is what you need to  improve symptoms of dry eye by improving meibomian gland function. This should work alongside conventional treatments such as artificial tears and topical anti-inflammatories.

What’s the best Omega 3 for dry eyes?

To get anywhere near the amount suggested by the RNIB as a recommended dose of Omega 3 for dry eye, you’ll need to take a clinical dose. The best fish oil you can take for eye health will have high levels of EPA and DHA per teaspoon. This information should be easy to find, not buried in the small print.

Our Bare Biology clinical strength fish oil has all the essential fatty acids you need to get the full range of Omega 3 eye benefits, with 3,500mg of Omega 3 (2,000mg of EPA, 1,000mg of DHA and 500mg of other Omega 3s) in every single teaspoon.

So will Omega 3 benefit your eyes?

We’re all living longer, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to see well throughout all of our lives, right into our old age? To do that numerous studies suggest you should put Omega 3 at the heart of your eye health menu.

It’s also important to remember to take your Omega 3 consistently, to give your body a regular supply of the fatty acids to combat chronic inflammation, maintain the correct lipid balance and to keep eyes well lubricated.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that while upping your intake of Omega 3 can be a wonderful way to improve eye health, it’s not a quick fix. Most studies that show an Omega 3 eye benefit take at least three months to show effects.

Read more hints and tips on choosing the best Omega 3 supplements.