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Omega-3 May Benefit Patients with Age-Related Macular Degeneration

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Macular Degeneration

What Is Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration is an eye condition which affects the central portion of the retina. Though painless, there may be deterioration of the central portion of the retina leading to its dysfunction. The retina is the part of the eye which is light-sensitive and is located at the back of the eye. It records images like a camera and sends these images via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain. The retina has the ability of converting light images into electrical impulses through a chemical reaction. The retina then sends these impulses or signal, to the brain, where we interpret what we see, process the visual information, and relate what we see to the rest of our environment.

The macula is a small part of the retina that is located on its central portion. This part of the retina is responsible for central vision and for the ability to see fine detail of things straight ahead of us. The macula functions when we read, drive a car, or recognize faces or colors. The non-macular areas of the retina provide us with our side vision and best night vision.

Age related macular degeneration or AMD is the most common type of macular degeneration. This disease is associated with aging and can destroy sharp vision which is essential in seeing objects clearly and for common daily tasks such as reading and driving. There may be gradual progression of AMD so that the patient often notices little change in their vision, yet in some, there may be a faster advancement of the disease in such a way that in a short period of time, there may be loss of vision in both eyes.

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There are two types of macular degeneration. Wet AMD is not common but is said to be more aggressive in progressing towards severe central vision loss. Dry AMD on the other hand is the more common type and is more slowly progressive in causing visual loss. Wet AMD happens when there is growth of abnormal blood vessels from the choroid layer or the layer of blood vessels in the middle of the retina and the sclera of the eye and in the macula of the retina. This growth of new blood vessels is also known as choroidal neovascularization or CNV can lead to the development of very fragile blood vessels which often leak blood and fluid. The blood and fluid often raise the macula from its normal place at the back of the eye and interfere with the retina’s function and causes the central vision to blur. This can cause rapid and severe vision loss. This is why periodic eye examinations are needed by patients with choroidal neovascularisation. All wet AMD is described as advanced AMD, whether or not there is serious visual loss.

Dry age-related macular degeneration is due to the slow breakdown of the light-sensitive cells in the macula. Central vision decreases due to malfunction of the macula. Dry AMD often occurs in just one eye at first. Later, the other eye can be affected. The cause of dry AMD is unknown. There are three stages of dry AMD: early, intermediate and advanced. Early AMD have either several small or a few medium-sized yellowish deposits in the eyes called drusen. Those with intermediate AMD have either many medium-sized drusen or one or more large drusen. Some people see a blurred spot in the center of their vision. More light may be needed for reading and other tasks. In advanced dry AMD there is a breakdown of light-sensitive cells and supporting tissue in the central retinal area.

Omega-3 May Benefit Patients with AMD

A recent study by researchers from Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Schepens Eye Research Institute, Harvard Medical School and other institutions have demonstrated for the first time that the omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs), DHA and EPA, and their specific bioactive products derived from the cytochrome P450 (CYP) pathway, can influence choroidal neovascularization (CNV) and vascular leakage by modulating micro-environmental immune cell recruitment to the site of these lesions. Their findings will be published in PNAS Online Early Edition the week of June 16-20, 2014. Thus omega-3 may be a promising supplement for people with age-related macular degeneration.

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