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Fish and fish oil linked to reduced risk of macular degeneration

Consumer Reports News: March 15, 2011 08:19 PM

Regularly consuming fish and omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil might dramatically cut the risk of vision loss from age-related macular degeneration (AMD), according to a study published online this week by the Archives of Ophthalmology.

Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Harvard Medical School in Boston looked at the eye health and eating habits of 38,022 women in the ongoing Women's Health Study. Over 10 years of follow-up, 235 were diagnosed with AMD. Women who consumed one or more servings of fish per week, and those who regularly consumed the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) had a 35 percent to 45 percent reduced risk of clinically significant AMD compared with women who consumed the lowest amounts of fish and omega-3s.

The primary types of fish linked with lower AMD risk were canned tuna, and dark-meat fish such as salmon and sardines. Our recent report on mercury in fish expressed concerns about canned tuna but concluded that Alaskan salmon and sardines were low in mercury.

Bottom line: The findings may be the strongest evidence to date that consuming fish and omega-3s help prevent AMD as well as keep it from reaching advanced stages, but they need to be confirmed in randomized clinical trials. That said, fish are rich in protein, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, and might also have other health benefits. If you decide to eat more fish consider lower-mercury choices that are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. And if you decide to take a fish-oil supplement, choose one labeled  "USP Verified," which indicates that it meets standards for purity and potency set by the U.S. Pharmacopeia, a nongovernmental authority, and have what the USP considers acceptable limits of contaminants. For a list of products that have been verified by the USP, go to www.uspverified.org.

--Doug Podolsky, senior editor

Read more about treating macular degeneration, including the supplements that might help people in early stages of the disease. 

Aaron Bailey


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