Taking a daily supplement of fish oil can help save your eyesight, a new study has revealed.
Health experts have long told of the benefits in consuming omega-3 fatty acids when it comes to preventing cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes.
Now this polyunsaturated fat - most commonly found in cold-water fish like sardines, salmon and mackerel as well as some nuts and seeds - has also been found to play an important role in combating debilitating ‘dry eye’ syndrome.
And because it also boosts contrast sensitivity - an important measure of visual function in situations of low light or fog - omega-3 could keep you safe when negotiating dark roads too.
The findings come from the Advanced Eye Centre in Chandigarh, India, and have been unveiled at the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery Symposium in San Diego, USA.
They found that omega-3 oil supplements can improve dry eye by as much as 105 per cent.
Dry eyes is the world’s most common eye complaint, affecting up to 33% of the population.
Sufferers experience an itchy, stinging sensation along with pain and a sensitivity to light and if left untreated dry eye can cause long term damage, impaired vision and in some extreme cases even blindness.
And for Dr David Allamby, a world-renowned specialist and laser eye surgeon, it’s welcome news indeed.
Dr Allamby, medical director at London’s Focus Clinic, revealed: “In the UK, a quarter of patients who visit ophthalmic clinics report symptoms of dry eye, making it a growing public health problem and one of the most common conditions seen by eye care practitioners.
“The elderly are most susceptible, with around a third being affected by the condition.
“And because our western diets only exacerbate the problem, this new study could be vital in combating dry eyes.”
Dr Allamby says our ‘lacrimal’ glands, almond-shaped glands, one for each eye, found next to the bone on the upper outside parts of the eyes, provide watery tears to create a film across the eyes.
Then meibomian glands in the eyelids require omega-3 fatty acids in order to produce oil which floats across the surface of the eyes when you blink, which acts like a cling film, keeping in the tears and reducing evaporation.
Symptoms are worsened by activities in which the rate of blinking is reduced, like prolonged reading, staring at computer screen, driving, or watching TV.
It also gets worse when you’re in a windy, smoky, dusty or air-conditioned environment.
Dr Allamby adds: “Tear film has a layer of oil which helps keep water on the surface of the eye. If you are deficient in omega-3s, you may suffer dry, uncomfortable eyes.
“Cold water fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna are best.”
“Or flaxseed oil is a good vegetarian alternative. I give my patients flaxseed oil supplements before and after laser eye surgery, to improve the quality of their eyes and their vision.”
The Indian research saw 60 patients with untreated moderate dry eye disease given either a fish oil capsule containing 1.2gm of omega-3 per day or a vitamin E placebo over a 12 week period.
All patients were also asked to use warm compresses and eyedrops.
And improvements were ‘statistically significantly greater; in patients receiving omega-3 fatty acid capsules than those receiving just vitamin E.
Lead author Arun K Jain says: “At the 12-week mark, tear break-up time had increased 105 per cent in the omega-3 group, compared with a 51 per cent improvement in the placebo group.
“Ocular Surface Disease Index scores improved 67 per cent among omega-3 recipients, compared with 27 per cent among those receiving vitamin E.
“Tear film quality increased 50 per cent among those receiving the fish oil supplements, versus 12 per cent for those receiving placebo.
“All of these differences were highly statistically significant.”
Doctor Jain also conducted ‘contrast sensitivity testing’ during his study and found ‘significant improvements’ among the omega-3 recipients in seven of eight testing conditions when compared to those who’d only had vitamin E.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Allamby adds: “A contrast sensitivity test measures your ability to distinguish between increments of light versus dark, basically to see different shades, which is important for our day-to-day sight.
“When you are faced with low light, fog, or glare the contrast between objects and their background is often reduced.
“So it’s clearly essential that you have a good standard of contrast sensitivity when driving at night, where you might not see pedestrians on dimly-lit streets.
“All my laser eye patients get omega oil supplements because it makes a big difference to their tears and vision after surgery. And if omega-3 supplements increase your chances of getting home safely, that’s surely a reason to start upping your intake.”