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Combination of Omega-3 Fatty-acids and Vitamin A May Slow Vision Loss

Retinitis pigmentosa is a debilitating disease that usually leaves people blind by the age of 60. It starts with night blindness in the teenage years, progresses through loss of peripheral vision, to tunnel vision, and finally to blindness. Researchers at Harvard University believe they have found the first effective treatment for this condition.

The findings of their study were published online ahead of print on February 13, 2012, in the Archives of Ophtamlmology.

The study examined data from three clinical trials that included 357 individuals with typical retinitis pigmentosa. Over the course of 4 to 6 years, the participants received 15,000 IU per day of vitamin A. Food frequency questionnaires were utilized to determine omega-3 fatty-acid intake levels.

The researchers discovered that consuming at least 200 mg of omega-3 fatty-acids correlated with a 40% slower decline in distance visual acuity. It also correlated with a nearly 50% slower rate of decline in central visual field sensitivity. These results could translate into 18 more years of vision for people with retinitis pigmentosa.

The retina contains rods and cones that act as photoreceptors and transfer light to vision centers in the brain. Rods are specialized to perceive dim light and detect movement and register shapes. Cones function best in bright daylight and allow people to see colors and fine details.

Rods and cones die in the retinas of people with retinitis pigmentosa. Research has shown that rod degeneration results from a deficiency of vitamin A. The researchers believe vitamin A combined with omega-3’s helps people with retinitis pigmentosa by slowing rod degeneration. They suggest taking vitamin A to replenish the rods and omega-3’s to improve delivery of vitamin A to cones.

In addition to eye health, omega-3s have been linked to an impressive number of health benefits, including age-related cognitive decline, improved heart health, alleviating arthritis pain, better moods, improved joint mobility, and aiding your immune system.

Vitamin A has been shown to improve diarrhea and the symptoms of respiratory disease, to slow the growth of pancreatic cancer cells, and to reduce the risk of measles. People who are deficient in vitamin A are also at risk for vision problems and many chronic diseases.

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