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Omega 3 and benefits for vision

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In the group of the so-called Omega three three different fatty acids are included, called respectively: alpha linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

These nutrients are defined as essential, since the body is not able to produce them independently and must therefore obtain them from food. However, to be precise, the only one of the three that is totally essential is the ALA; from this, in fact, the body is able to obtain EPA and DHA. However, this is a capacity that can be poor or compromised, which is why the diet should contain all 3 in adequate quantities.

Omega 3 perform various vital and/or necessary functions for maintaining general health.

The properties of omega 3 are numerous but, in this article, we will focus on the role they can play in supporting visual function.

What are the benefits of omega 3?

Omega 3 are essential nutrients for the eyes, and consequently for vision.

The link between eyesight and omega 3 is quite complex and can be summarized as follows:

  • Omega three participate in the birth and development of the tissues that make up the eyes, as well as their subsequent maintenance.
  • The eyes are abundantly vascularized by a dense capillary network; omega three have a vasodilatory role and promote capillary elasticity.
  • Omega 3 opposes the damage caused by chronic hyperglycemia, among which vision impairment is very frequent.
  • It has been hypothesized that omega three may have a significant importance in the prevention of certain pathological degenerative forms typical of old age.

Role in the development of vision

Several studies have shown that omega 3s are necessary for infant visual function. In particular, docosahexaenoic acid is considered a very important nutrient for nervous and ocular development.
The role of DHA for growth is so considerable that in the latest revision of LARN*, SINU* recommends taking an additional quantity of this fatty acid compared to the previously recommended levels.

*LARN: Recommended Intake Levels for Nutrients and Energy in the Italian population
*INTO: Italian Society of Human Nutrition

DHA is of primary importance in fetal development and it is recommended to take omega 3 supplements during pregnancy.
According to a study published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition”, DHA supplementation from the fourth month of pregnancy until delivery decreased the likelihood that unborn babies would have lower-than-normal visual acuity.
This omega 3 is also required in higher quantities in the diet of infants and children up to the second year of life. Keep in mind that the concentration of omega 3 in breast milk is significantly influenced by diet and it may be advisable to correct your diet or use a food supplement.
According to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, healthy babies born prematurely fed a formula rich in DHA develop superior visual acuity compared to newborns who were fed a regular formula.
A Canadian study states that DHA dietary supplementation supports the growth of children up to the twelfth year of life.

Role in eye diseases in old age

It has been hypothesized that omega three may have a positive role in age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and dry eye syndrome. The insights on this matter have been conflicting and the role of omega 3 in these conditions is not yet completely clear.
Furthermore, it is possible that these essential fats promote correct drainage of intraocular fluid, reducing the risk of ocular hypertension and glaucoma. These effects appear to be more noticeable in those who follow a diet rich in fatty fish; the role of supplements is still not fully known.
It is believed that omega 3 can perform all these functions especially in people who have followed a diet naturally rich in essential fats all their lives.
On the other hand, we must keep in mind that in old age the organism loses, albeit partially, the ability to obtain EPA and DHA from ALA; this requires structuring the diet more carefully and suggests the use of a food supplement based on EPA and DHA.

Effects on circulation

Omega 3s have a vasodilatory effect and promote blood fluidity.
This favors the blood circulation, in particular the capillary one.
It is logical to think that omega three can exert a potentially beneficial effect for all conditions in which this function is compromised.
Alterations of the microcirculation also appear among the complications of type 2 diabetes mellitus; the eyes are more than significantly affected by this effect.
A diet rich in omega 3 and any supplement with omega 3, of the EPA and DHA type, could have a positive effect by preventing or reducing the severity of these complications.

What to do?

In newborns, children up to the second year of life, pregnant and breastfeeding women and elderly people at risk of eye diseases, it is recommended to increase the intake of omega 3 in the diet, in particular EPA and DHA.
The body is normally able to produce EPA and DHA from ALA, but in some circumstances this function remains compromised.

Omega 3: Useful Tips

To avoid the deficiency of all omega 3, it is advisable to follow some advice:

  • Promote the intake of foods rich in ALA (of plant origin)
  • Promote the intake of foods rich in EPA and DHA (fishery products)
  • Consider using a food supplement that mainly supplies DHA (fish oil, krill oil, algae oil, squid oil, etc.). NB. These products require impeccable preservation and are very sensitive to light, heat and oxygen.
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