Omega-3 fatty acids are touted for a myriad of health benefits, one of which is vision protection. Now, a newly developed version of an Omega-3 fatty acid can prevent vision loss stemming from Alzheimer's disease, researchers said.

Researchers at the University of Illinois, Chicago, developed a new form of omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that can seep into the eye's retina to mitigate the chances of visual difficulties related to Alzheimer's disease and other disorders such as Macular Degeneration, which is a marker of nearsightedness.

The newfound DHA supplement trumps its earlier version commonly found in fish oils (triacylglycerol or TAG-DHA) in terms of eye health benefits. According to a study presented at Discover BMB, Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is crucial for retinal function. But dietary supplements or ingesting DHA capsules are insufficient in terms of boosting the retinal health, as they can't directly travel to the eyes from the bloodstream.

Scientists, therefore, developed a new lysophospholipid form of DHA to be used in a mice study. LPC-DHA was found to be effective in early-onset Alzheimer's disease. The dosage of the supplement is equivalent to about 250 to 500 mg in humans per day.

The study, which lasted for six months, found the mice given the supplements showed a 96% improvement in retinal DHA content. However, further studies will be required to assess its range of benefits for humans.

"Dietary LPC-DHA is enormously superior to TAG-DHA in enriching retinal DHA and could be potentially beneficial for various retinopathies in patients," said Sugasini Dhavamani, a research assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, according to Neurosciences News. "This approach provides a novel therapeutic approach for the prevention or mitigation of retinal dysfunction associated with Alzheimer's disease and diabetes."

The study is yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. Discover BMB is the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, which was held from March 25-28.

In healthy eyes, a high concentration of DHA is found in the retina. The DHA content helps maintain photoreceptors, cells that convert light into signals sent to the brain. With the new supplement, many visual difficulties can be prevented in an Alzheimer's-stricken person. However, one problem with the current supplement was that it was first required to be absorbed by the intestine before it could reach the retina.

Vision problems in people with Alzheimer's happen because their brains fail to process the information sent to them by the eyes, according to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. Some indicators of the problem are:

  • Peripheral field loss
  • Loss of contrast sensitivity
  • Difficulty with depth perception
  • Problems with glare

"Visual impairment is a significant component of Alzheimer's disease, but while there are indeed degenerative retinal changes in association with Alzheimer's disease, most of the visual impairment is secondary to brain dysfunction rather than retinal dysfunction," Dr. Howard R. Krauss, MD, surgical neuro-ophthalmologist and director of Pacific Neuroscience Institute's Eye, Ear & Skull Base Center, at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, told Healthline.

Krauss said Omega-3 supplements are beneficial, but over-the-counter supplements vary in purity and concentration. Some supplements, especially in excess, could carry a risk for some people. He, therefore, insisted everyone should consult their primary healthcare provider before taking supplements.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids
For children, omega-3 fatty acids may be able to curb their aggressive behavior problems. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain