Museum Blog

An Eye on Dietary Fats

Posted 3/13/2015 12:03 AM by Nicole Garneau | Comments

We love our citizen scientist alumni, and we are incredibly proud of where they take their science careers. This week, we are pleased to share insights from alumnus Michael A. Bagley, an optometric intern at Pacific University College of Optometry.

Michael takes our study on fatty acids to the next level in health in showing the very cool way in which these healthy fats do amazing things for our eyes.

Salmon? Yes, please!

Yo Pearl the Science Girl


Nutrition and dietary supplementation are a fast growing interest and industry in the United States. One family of nutrients gaining notoriety is the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), like omega-3. Omega-3 PUFAs are considered essential to have in the diet because the body cannot make these nutrients on its own. These molecules are used as structural components in all cells and participate in the growth and function of various body systems including vision, heart, immunity, and the inflammation process.

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Two important PUFAs for the eyes are Docosahexaenoic acid (DPA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). They have been implicated in the function of the retina, and health of the front surfaces of the eye and cornea. Age-Related Macular Degeneration is a leading cause of blindness in the United States. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and its follow up, AREDS2, explored the benefit of vitamin, mineral, and omega-3 supplementation effects on macular degeneration. They found that regular intake of their formulation helped slow down the progression of macular degeneration and reduced the risk of developing it in the future. It has now become the standard treatment for this incurable, progressive, and devastating disease.

Another very common condition is dry eye. Many of us have experienced dry, gritty, or uncomfortable feelings on the eye. Protecting the cornea from the dry air is a thin shield made of clear mucous, aqueous (water), and liquid fats/oil called the “tear film”. A study by Rahul Bhargava and his colleagues explored the effects of omega-3 supplementation on people who suffer from this feeling of dryness. They conducted their study in an area of India where the people have very little or no food sources containing this kind of fat. Their findings are very intriguing. The health of the cornea and quality of the protective tear film of their subjects increased dramatically after the supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids. Another trial conducted by Haleh Kangari found the same benefits can be gained right here in the U.S. We should be taking advantage of food sources we already have that contain omega 3, such as fish and dark, leafy green vegetables and fish/krill oil tablets.

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Omega-6 fatty acids are another type of PUFAs that are essential to the body’s function and development. These are very common in our diet without even trying. Corn, nuts, and other grains are high in omega-6. It’s so prevalent than some researchers suggest lowering your intake because too much can actually damage cells through triggering unnecessary inflammation. In their article in Review of Optometry magazine, Drs. Paul Karpecki and Diana Shectman suggested a 1:1 ratio of omega-3 to 6. Achieving this ratio usually requires reducing corn and flour product intake while increasing fish and vegetables or taking supplements.

It’s truly amazing how the right nutrients can affect our bodies in dramatic ways. Many of us think of our eyes as separate entities. But they’re as much of a part of our health as a strong heart or a focused mind. Omega-3 PUFAs are gaining stronger support from optometrists, ophthalmologists, and other medical professionals as a part of a healthy diet. These essential nutrients help reduce the risk of macular degeneration in the future and can make eyes feel better right now! As always, ask your optometrist or other medical professional about any concerns you may have.

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