Omega 3 Benefits to the Retina

Omega 3 Benefits to the Retina

Posted under Eye Health

Omega 3 fatty acids play several different roles and function in several different ways in the retina and for our vision. Omega-3’s are called essential fatty acids because they must come from your diet as the body is unable to make them.  The three forms of omega-3’s include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are found mainly in fatty fish, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is found in non-fish sources.  How do these fatty acids contribute to better eye health?


Structural Benefits

The cell membranes of the retina contain very high concentrations of DHA. Essential fatty acids can affect the health and how well these cell membranes function.  “Animal studies indicate that DHA is required for the normal development and function of the retina”  according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.  Dr. Lylas Mogk, board certified ophthalmologist and author of Macular Degeneration: The Complete Guide to Saving and Maximizing Your Sight states, “It turns out that the rods and cones of the macula need a certain amount of omega-3 to function.”


Anti-Inflammatory Benefits

Chronic inflammation contributes to the development of retinal diseases like macular degeneration. A diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods may contribute to better eye health. “Animal experiments and clinical intervention studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and, therefore, might be useful in the management of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.” Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases. J Am Coll Nutr. 2002 Dec;21(6):495-505.


Protective Benefits

Omega 3’s may help to prevent or delay the development of retinal diseases. “Over the last decade, several epidemiological studies based on food frequency questionnaires suggest that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids could have a protective role in reducing the onset and progression of retinal diseases. The retina has a high concentration of omega-3, particularly DHA, which optimizes fluidity of photoreceptor membranes, retinal integrity, and visual function.”



Anti-angiogenic refers to the ability of a substance or food to inhibit new blood vessel growth (angiogenesis). The process of abnormal angiogenesis is what contributes to the development of wet macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.  “These findings indicate that increasing the sources of omega-3 PUFA or their bioactive products reduces pathological angiogenesis.” Retina and Omega 3 J Nutr Metab. 2011; 2011: 748361.


Sources of essential fatty acids include marine or fish sources (EPA and DHA) and non-fish sources (ALA) such as grass fed beef, eggs, seeds, nuts and leafy greens. There is disagreement as to whether plant based omega 3s are as beneficial as marine based omega 3’s .  Find out how you can increase and include these healthy essential fats in your diet:


Foods High in Omega 3


Leslie Degner, RN, BSN