November 2013

Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Reduce Symptoms of Macular Degeneration

High-dose omega-3 fatty acids may be an effective treatment for older people who have vision problems due to age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Macular degeneration is a degenerative disease of the retina (a thin layer of nerve cells that lines the back of the eyeball) that causes progressive loss of central vision. Central vision loss is due to the deterioration of the central part of the retina, known as the macula. The macula is involved in detailed vision. Light sensing cells in the macula, known as photoreceptors, convert light into electrical impulses. Then the impulses are transferred to the brain via the optic nerve. Central vision loss from macular degeneration occurs when photoreceptor cells in the macula degenerate. The risk of developing macular degeneration increases with age. The disease most often affects people in their sixties and seventies. Macular degeneration is the most common cause of vision loss in individuals over the age of 60.

Foods that provide omega-3 fatty acids include fish oil and certain plant and nut oils. Fish oil contains two omega-3 fatty acids called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Some nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which may be converted to DHA and EPA in the body. In the United States, percentages of DHA and EPA have been found to be lower compared to other nations with lower heart disease rates, such as Japan.

In the current study, the authors evaluated the use of high-dose omega-3 fatty acids for possible vision benefits in older people with AMD. Participants received omega-3 fatty acids providing 3.4 grams of EPA and 1.6 grams of DHA daily for a period of six months, after which their visual health was assessed.

The results suggested that people with dry AMD (a form of the disease in which deposits of waste products form in the eye) experienced significant improvement in vision within four and a half months of receiving daily omega-3 supplementation.

Aside from omega-3 fatty acids, other complementary and alternative therapies have been studied for potential effects on vision. Acupuncture, goji, and lutein have all been evaluated for this purpose, but there is unclear or conflicting data to support their uses. More research is needed on their potential impact on vision.

For more information about omega-3 fatty acids, please visit Natural Standard's Foods, Herbs & Supplements Database.


  1. Georgioua T, Neokleousa A, Nikolaou D, et al. Pilot Study for Treating Dry Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) with High-Dose Omega-3 Fatty Acids. PharmaNutrition. 18 October 2013.
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 

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