Diabetic retinopathy is one of the biggest and most serious complications associated with diabetes, and it’s the leading cause of blindness among those aged 30 to 60. By some estimates, more than 80 percent of patients with type 2 diabetes will develop some form of diabetic retinopathy within 20 years of diagnosis.
Diabetic retinopathy develops when out-of-control blood sugar levels cause damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina — the layer of nerves in the back of the eye that sends the images you see to your brain. High blood sugar causes the blood vessels to become weak. The more weakened blood vessels you have, the greater the chance that blood could leak into the middle part of your eye, which can affect your vision and cause scar tissue to form.
Keeping your blood sugar in control can help protect your eyes from diabetic retinopathy. In fact, keeping your glucose levels as close to normal as possible can prevent the development or slow the progression of retinopathy by more than 75 percent.
You can also protect your eyes by keeping your blood pressure in check. High blood pressure increases the pressure of blood vessels in the eye, which can cause the weaker vessels to burst.
But short of these two basic measures, there are not many other prevention options available. Fortunately, preliminary research has shown that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids could preserve retinal function in mice with type 2 diabetes.
Researchers fed mice identical diets, but the treatment group received chow enhanced with the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, while the control group ate chow enhanced with the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid.
Retinal function was assessed at 9, 14, and 26 weeks using electroretinography. They found that the omega-3 diet significantly preserved retinal function in the mice, while the retinal function of the mice in the control group gradually deteriorated. Not surprisingly, the control diet mimicked the typical American diet, which is usually high in omega-6s.
Interestingly, vision-protective benefits appear to be independent of omega-3’s well-known anti-inflammatory properties. The researchers concluded that omega-3 supplementation in diabetic patients may slow the progression of vision loss associated with diabetic retinopathy.
Load Up on Omega-3s
While further research on humans needs to be conducted on omega-3’s eye-protective properties, this is promising news. If you have diabetes and want to do everything you can to keep your eyes healthy, or if you already suffer from diabetic retinopathy and would like another treatment weapon for your arsenal, then adding omega-3s to your diet may just be the ticket.
You can get omega-3s simply by adding fish, like salmon or mackerel, to your diet. But you can also take omega-3s in supplement form.
Be sure to choose a high-quality supplement that contains oil from cold-water fish like salmon. And also make sure that the supplement you choose has been tested for mercury and other heavy metals and toxins.
Finally, the product should contain at least 800 mg of omega-3s, 300 mg of DHA, and 400-450 mg of EPA. (If you are looking for a high-quality fish oil supplement, click here.)
If you prefer a vegetarian source of omega-3s, try flax oil or ground flaxseed.
Whatever the source, adding omega-3s to your diet has very few downsides, and many, many benefits — the latest of which may very well be eye protection.
Remember, it is always a good idea to discuss the use of any supplements with your physician, especially if you have diabetes.
 Sapieha P et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids preserve retinal function in type 2 diabetic mice. Nutrition and Diabetes. 2012;2,e36; doi:10.1038/nutd.2012.10.