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Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Prevent Retinopathy-Related Blindness
Published Wednesday, August 1, 2007

BOSTON - Harvard researchers report a study in mice found greater intake of long-chain omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) protected against blindness attributed to abnormal ocular blood vessel growth. Their compatriots at Children's Hospital Boston, the pediatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, hope to replicate the findings in premature infants at risk for vision loss due to a lack of omega-3s. Results of the murine study were published in a letter to Nature Medicine (ePub June 24; DOI:10.1038/nm1591). Researchers fed mice diets that either emphasized docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)¬the pre-formed long-chain omega-3s found in fish oil¬or omega-6 fatty acids. Mice on the omega-3 diet had an area with vessel loss 40- to 50-percent smaller than that of mice on the omega-6 diet, significantly decreasing pathological vessel growth and aiding normal vessel re-growth. Researchers further reported a 2-percent change in omega-3 intake was sufficient to decrease disease severity by 50 percent. Also, the omega-3 based diet suppressed production of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), reducing the inflammatory response in the retina, and bolstered production of the anti-inflammatory compounds neuroprotectinD1, resolvinD1 and resolvinE1. Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Eye Institute (NEI), which provided funding for the study, said: "This study shows the benefit of dietary omega-3 fatty acids in protecting against the development and progression of retinal disease. It gives us a better understanding of the biological processes that lead to retinopathy and how to intervene to prevent or slow disease. It will be interesting to see if human clinical trials show similar beneficial effects." The clinical trial at Children's Hospital Boston will follow premature newborns who are unable to feed and receiving parenteral nutrition, with omega-3 fatty acids as part of their IV solution. The hope is that the omega-3 supplementation will allow the retina and its vessels to develop normally.

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