- Diabetic individuals who consume two servings of Omega-3 rich fatty fish weekly could significantly decrease their risk of vision loss.
- Predominantly plant-based diets supplemented with Omega-3 rich food like fatty fish, olive oil, and nuts may help prevent diabetic retinopathy, a severe diabetes-related complication.
- The study showed that participants who consumed at least 500 milligrams (mg) daily of Omega-3 fatty acid were 48% less likely to develop diabetic retinopathy.
- The protective effect of Omega-3 rich food is likely attributable to the decrease in systemic inflammation that these substances provide.
- Fish oil supplements cannot replace the benefits of consuming whole Omega-3 rich foods, as natural foods also provide essential nutrients that promote overall health.
Individuals with diabetes face a heightened risk of vision loss, but a recent study suggests that consuming two servings of fatty fish weekly could significantly decrease this risk.
Understanding Diabetic Retinopathy
Fatty fish like salmon and tuna are rich sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, which may play a role in preventing diabetic retinopathy – a severe complication of type 2 diabetes that arises from a reduced blood supply to the retina. According to Aleix Sala-Vila, the leading researcher in the Spanish study, diabetic retinopathy remains the most common reason behind diabetes-related blindness.
Sala-Vila and his team aimed to examine whether consistent consumption of fatty fish – absent of any advice to increase seafood intake or use fish oil supplements – could lower the risk of this condition. They focused on patients predominantly consuming low-fat or plant-based diets.
An Insightful Find
The researchers found that participants who ingested at least two servings of fatty fish every week were less likely to develop diabetic retinopathy than those who incorporated less fish into their diets.
The study drew its subjects from an earlier test that designated Spanish residents with type 2 diabetes into three separate diet groups. The first group followed a low-fat diet, the second cultivated a plant-based Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil, and the third mirrored the second but added 30 grams of Omega-3 rich almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts into their daily intake.
Notably, it was those in the Mediterranean diet group with the added olive oil supplement that saw a reduction in their vision risks.
Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Working with the same pool of participants, the team inquired about the seafood consumption habits of approximately 3,600 diabetic men and women aged between 55 and 80 before they adhered to their designated diets.
After tracking their seafood intake habits for nearly five years, the researchers found that those who consistently had 500 milligrams (mg) daily of Omega-3 fatty acid – the equivalent of two weekly servings of fatty fish – were 48% less likely to develop diabetic retinopathy.
The researchers concluded this protective effect might be attributable to a decrease in systemic inflammation associated with elevated levels of Omega-3.
Is More Better?
Whether increasing fatty fish consumption offers more protection remains uncertain, according to Sala-Vila. He cautioned against the presumption that Omega-3 supplements could replace real fish. Dr. Michael Larsen, a professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, seconds this point.
“This study examined the impact of incorporating specific natural components into the diet, not the effect of dietary supplements,” Larsen noted. “Unsaturated fats tend to become rancid when isolated, so equating supplement capsules with authentic fish and nuts isn’t accurate.”
Lona Sandon, an assistant professor in the department of clinical nutrition with the school of health professions at UT Southwestern in Dallas, agreed. She emphasized the importance of including Omega-3 rich foods in your everyday diet.
“Fish oil supplements are generally safe,” she said, “but they are no substitute for nutrient-rich foods. Starting with Omega-3 rich foods in your daily diet is best. Supplements rarely compensate for a poor base diet. Also, foods high in Omega-3s also provide essential vitamins and proteins that promote overall health, like vitamin E in walnuts and protein in salmon and tuna.”
Typical Examples of Omega-3 Rich Foods
For more information about diabetes-related eye diseases, visit the American Diabetes Association.