Fatty Acids for Eye Health

We are often lectured that fat is bad for us, but fatty acids for eye health are an absolute essential. Without the right balance of all the essential fatty acids in the diet, eye health, as well as the health of your entire body, may suffer.

Someone has described fatty acids as the building blocks of fat, but they are far more than that. Fatty acids are also the building blocks of hormones.

Added to a base of cholesterol—which, hard as it may be to believe, is also essential to good health—fatty acids form hormones that cause inflammation, and also hormones that relieve inflammation.

Both kinds of hormones are essential to good health and to eye health. You wouldn't want for your body never to have the power to induce inflammation, since inflammation is the process that protects you against infection and keeps you from bleeding out when you have a serious cut.

You wouldn't want your body not to have the hormones that put a brake on the process of inflammation, because these are the substances that lower blood pressure and stop pain.

The problem with the average diet in North America, Australia, and the UK, however, is that we get far more of the pro-inflammatory n-6 and n-9 essential fatty acids than we get of the anti-inflammatory n-3 essential fatty acids.

The balance of these two types of essential fats can get so far out of whack that it can even affect eye health.

The n-3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA are a requirement for proper visual development in infants and toddlers. Even in adults, a deficiency of n-3 fatty acids can cause damage to the retina.

Since these fatty acids are important in the creation of anti-inflammatory hormones and prostaglandins, they also help eye fluids drain and lower intraocular pressure.

Adults who consume the highest amounts of n-3 fatty acids have a nearly 40 per cent lower risk of age-related macular degeneration, and women who consume the highest amounts of n-3 fatty acids are at much lower risk for dry eye syndrome.

When women who already have dry eye syndrome start taking fish oil or other supplements containing n-3 fatty acids, the severity of their symptoms decreases.

The n-3 essential fatty acids don't really lubricate or moisturize the eyes, but they stop the production of the inflammatory prostaglandins that cause redness and inflammation in dry eyes.

The n-3 fatty acids are abundant in cold-water fish, but they are also found in olive oil and nuts. The n-6 fatty acids are found in most partially dehydrogenated oils, in corn oil, safflower oil, beef, eggs, luncheon meat, and processed foods.

Your body needs some of the n-6 and n-9 fatty acids to make needed pro-inflammatory hormones, but most of us get too much, and need n-3 essential fatty acid supplements.

There are just a few precautionary notes you need to know before you use essential fatty acids in your daily routine for maintaining eye health.

Essentially fatty acid supplements do have calories. You actually can take enough to interfere with weight loss, although this is relatively rare.

Also, not everybody reacts well to fish oil. It can cause "fishy burps," acid reflux, and diarrhea. These annoying side effects usually only occur the first time or two you use it, and they can be entirely avoided by using "distilled" brands.

If you don't want to get your EPA and DHA n-3 essential fatty acids from an animal source, there are also products offering these fatty acids from algae, manufactured in vegetarian capsules. Olive oil, grapeseed oil, and flaxseed oil are also great sources of these essential nutrients for healthy eyes.


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