The simple Spanish secret to saving your vision

If you’ve been reading the Reality Health Check for a while, I’m guessing I don’t need to bring you up to speed on the many benefits of fish oil. It’s been on my list of “Desert Island” supplements for as long as I can remember.

But even after all this time, the power of marine omega-3s never ceases to amaze me.

The latest benefit to bubble to the surface? New research shows that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) can guard against retinopathy — a leading cause of vision loss — in older people with type 2 diabetes.

That’s right. Fish oil can keep you from going blind.

This incredible finding comes courtesy of the PREDIMED trial — a long-term study I’ve written about many times before. This study has honed in on the disease-fighting benefits of the Mediterranean diet… with a strong focus on its abundance of healthy fats, polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals.

This particular examination focused solely on diabetic retinopathy. And researchers discovered that participants over the age of 55 who also consumed 500 mg or more of omega-3 PUFAs daily were half as likely to suffer from this form of vision loss. So to say a little goes a long way here would be the understatement of the century. (As a reference, I recommend 3,000 milligrams per day of omega-3 fish oils, in the form of DHA/EPA.)

And the news gets even better: Subjects with high blood pressure, those who had been battling diabetes for more than five years, and insulin-dependent subjects all enjoyed even higher reductions in retinopathy risk.

Which means that the worse off you are, the greater the payoff.

Of course, none of this is too surprising, given what we already know about how omega-3s behave in the body. Like the fact that levels, including those in the retina, are easily improved with the right diet. (Namely, one that’s packed with fatty, cold-water fish.)

The trouble is, you never really know how much DHA/EPA you’re getting from the fish you eat. Which is what made this particular study finding so valuable. It showed that eating just two servings of fatty fish every week was enough to increase omega-3 levels and combat inflammation.

It’s also the first study to show that fish oil stalls vascular disease, not just in arteries of the heart and the brain, but in other locations too. In this case, we’re talking about the eyes. But as we’ve discussed at great length before, inflammation is at the root of just about every disease in the book.

And don’t forget that the PREDIMED study took place in Spain. Fish, nuts, olive oil and other prime sources of healthy fat are common staples of daily meals there — both in restaurants and home kitchens. So it’s no surprise that 3/4 of the subjects in this trial were already consuming 500 mg of omega-3s right off the bat.

Unfortunately, the U.S. doesn’t have this out-the-gate advantage. Our consumption of healthy fats from foods like fish and nuts is nowhere near where it should be. (Thanks to the persistent low-fat recommendations issued by the ADA itself.)

So just imagine what such a small change could mean for diabetics in this country. And, the potential implications for the public health are enormous.

But of course, this news barely made a blip on the mainstream radar. Which means your doctor isn’t likely to hear about it, much less give you clear cut recommendations. So it’s up to you to put these findings to good use. Fill up on low-mercury, responsibly sourced, wild-caught fish at least twice a week. And take your fish oil, every single day.