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EYES NEED IT: Omega-3s
by Robert Abel, Jr., M.D.

What do eyes and algae — yes, the single - celled photosynthetic organisms that tend to cluster in ponds, lakes and oceans—have in common? Believe it or not, more than you might think. And the health of our eyes, thus healthy vision, is dependent on a few of the same elements as the green, slippery stuff to perform and survive: water and the proper amount of omega-3s.

The eye is composed of both a cornea and crystalline lens. These two lenses focus light onto a carpet of receptors known as the retina. The central area of the retina, where the cone-shaped photoreceptors are clustered, is the macula—the part of the eye that distinguishes color and detail. Light then enters through the eye and impacts the retina, where its photoreceptors quickly breakdown and build up again; ready to receive the next set of images.

Most understand these basics of eye mechanics, but what is the link between them and a mass of slimy green cells? If you understand that the eye is essentially a bag of water, this connection gets clearer. Algae started in a chaotic world of fluids and gasses, feasting on sunlight, water, and carbon. It is the cell's permeable membrane that enabled it to survive that chaos, plus many, many ions in water. A major component of that durable membrane consists of two layers of lipids—or fats: Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs).

The human brain is made of a similar composition. Two layers of the brain are composed of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is the longest chain of Omega-3 EFA; 60 percent are structural lipids, and half of that—or 30 percent—is Omega-3 DHA. So, it is no stretch that 50 percent of the retina and its highly membranous photoreceptors would also be made up of DHA.

All nutrition for the eye is available from the liver, and we are dependent on what we select to eat, as well as how well it is absorbed, stored, and circulated by our body to maintain healthy vision. As previously concluded, EFAs are vital to the health of our eyes and vision. Because the average diet contains a 25:1 ratio of Omega-6s to Omega-3s (the composition of the actual eye is an equal ratio of both), it is important to infuse more Omega-3s into your diet. Natural sources of Omega-3s are algae; deep-sea, cold-water fatty fish (that feed on algae); mother's milk; flaxseed; walnuts; fortified eggs; and organ and wild meats.
    LUTEIN, a potent antioxidant that is specifically protective to the eye. Studies show that individuals with low levels of lutein in their blood are twice as likely to develop age-related macular degeneration, a disease which causes blurred vision.

    MIXED CAROTENES, derived from palm oil, are the best absorbed form of carotenes and an excellent source of potent antioxidants that protect vision. Beta carotene combined with vitamin A helps prevent night blindness.

    BILBERRY, a flavonoid-rich herb, strengthens the portion of the eye responsible for focusing. Some studies report that bilberry is effective in preventing night blindness and cataracts.

    GINKGO BILOBA, enhances circulation, providing oxygen to the eyes—a key factor in protecting vision.

    Other ANTIOXIDANTS, such as VITAMINS C and E, SELENIUM, and ZINC are thought to prevent free radical damage, which leads to deterioration of the eyes.

    MAGNESIUM, dilates blood vessels and can improve blood flow to the eyes.

    SILYMARIN or MILK THISTLE, protects liver cells and aids in optimal liver function, the main organ that processes and supplies the nutrients essential for vision and eye health.
When we don't receive the proper quality or ratio of these DHAs and EFAs, we may start to experience eye and vision problems, especially dry eyes and macular degeneration. The role of DHA and EPA is to keep things in the body moist. If dry eyes are a complaint, it is important to blink often, keep well–hydrated primarily with water, and use a humidifier. But most importantly, consider changing your dietary oil intake to better match 1:1 Omega 6-to-Omega 3 ratio.

Your eyes are only one part of your body that benefit from proper Omega-3 supplementation. Other conditions benefitting from Omega-3 supplementation are coronary artery disease, hyperten sion, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, Alzheimer's disease, depression, constipation, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, and an association with a reduced risk of stroke. There is also evidence that Omega-3s support pregnancy, for it contributes to optimal development of fetal brain, heart, and eyes.

I recommend 500-1000 mg of Carlson's Super DHA or Liquid Omega-3. Taken with a fat-soluble vitamin and a meal, my patients have experienced great success. The most notable complaints were some adverse effects related to blood thinning, unpleasant taste, or indigestion; none of which were extreme. In my experience, a small amount of blood thinning has proved therapeutic for most people. One caution: If you are taking coumadin, it's important to consult with your physician or health practitioner to have your blood tested and to ensure that coumadin or other anti-coagulants are at levels that won't conflict with supplementation. It may be noted that 6000 mg of Omega-3 daily have been consumed without adverse effects.

You can read more about DHA on my web site, www.eyeadvisory.com. I wish you luck in your journey toward healthy vision.


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