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Superfoods containing omega 3 and fish oils may help prevent the most common cause of blindness in old age, say scientists.
The benefits of eating oily fish like mackerel and nuts are already recognised in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and heart attacks.
But new US research suggests omega 3 fatty acids can also protect against the .loss of vision that develops with age,known as AMD (age-related macular degeneration).
Around 200,000 Britons each year suffer AMD and there is no preventative treatment, although laser surgery and drugs can limit damage caused by the disease.
It is the most common cause of sight loss in people over 50 and robs people of the central vision necessary for reading, driving or simply recognising people’s faces.
A team at the National Eye Institute in Maryland, US, who fed mice with high levels of Omega 3 found those eating more fish oils had lower levels of AMD.
The condition improved in 57 per cent of mice fed the highest levels for at least 12 weeks, compared with just four per cent on lower levels of omega 3.
It is unclear how omega 3 works but the mechanism may be anti-inflammatory.
The mice that responded best had lower levels of inflammation – thought to be linked with the development of AMD – and higher rates of anti-inflammatory molecules.
In a report that will appear in the American Journal of Pathology next month, the scientists said ‘The results provide the scientific basis for omega 3 fatty acids in the prevention and treatment of AMD.
Dr Chi-Chao Chan, who led the research team, said the results should apply in humans although the exact amount and duration of omega 3 needed to confer long-term benefits had to be determined.
She said: ‘The results in these mice are in line with epidemiological studies of AMD risk reduction and we plan to use this model to evaluate other therapies that might delay the development of the disease.
‘We think the findings are applicable in humans and it probably means a daily intake of omega 3.’The findings suggest regular consumption of a diet high in omega 3 would cut the risk of the disease and might also improve sight if taken up after it had developed, she added.
Britons are currently advised to eat fish at least twice a week, including one portion of oily fish.
The best dietary source of omega 3 fatty acids is oily fish because the human body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids.
There has been an explosion in the number of foods fortified with omega-3 oils, such as chickens, margarine, eggs, milk and bread, but they contain only small amounts.
Types of fish that contain high levels include tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and anchovies.Fish oil supplements are recommended as protection against heart attacks and sudden death, with regular fish eaters a third more likely to survive a heart attack.
Omega 3 fats work in several ways to reduce heart attack risk by cutting blood fats, reducing the chances of a blood clot and blocking dangerous heart rhythms that might otherwise prove fatal.In addition, trials have shown fish oils can help prevent depression.Taking fish oils in pregnancy has been found to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, and improve birthweight.
Previous research also shows supplements of certain antioxidant vitamins and other nutrients may ward off AMD.
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