Why Omega-3s Matter When You Have Diabetes

When you have diabetes, many aspects of your everyday life call for close monitoring — including your blood sugar, heart health, kidney health, and foot health. But you may not have known that your eye health could be affected as well. If you have diabetes, you’re at risk of developing a complication called diabetic retinopathy.

It sounds scary, but there are things you can do to reduce your risk. In this blog post, we discuss everything you need to know about diabetic retinopathy, the steps you can take to keep it at bay, and how omega-3s can help.

What you need to know about diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects your eyes by damaging the blood vessels of your retina. Over time, too much sugar in your blood can form blockages in the small blood vessels in your eye that provide nourishment to your retina. In an attempt to compensate for the blockages, your eye grows new blood vessels. Unfortunately, these new vessels don’t develop the way they should and can easily leak.

Diabetic retinopathy has two stages:

Early diabetic retinopathy

Also called nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR), this stage of the complication is more common and occurs when your eye is no longer growing new blood vessels. The walls of the existing blood vessels in your retina begin to weaken, and microaneurysms (tiny bulges) jut out of the smaller vessels, sometimes causing leaks. Swelling in your retina may also occur.

Advanced diabetic retinopathy

If left unnoticed or untreated, diabetic retinopathy can progress into this more severe stage, also known as proliferative diabetic neuropathy. Once you’ve reached this stage, the damaged blood vessels close off and cause new, abnormal blood vessels to grow in your retina and eventually leak. The growth of these new vessels causes scar tissue to develop over time and may cause your retina to detach.

Should the new blood vessels get in the way of the normal flow of fluid, pressure can build up in your eye and damage your optic nerve, resulting in glaucoma. Other complications can arise from untreated diabetic retinopathy as well.

How omega-3s can help

In addition to having regular eye exams at Nicholas Rutkowski, OD & Associates and keeping your blood sugar under control, incorporating omega-3 fatty acids into your health regimen can help keep your eyes in good shape.

Omega-3s are important elements of the membranes surrounding the cells in your body. Their anti-inflammatory and anti-angiogenic (prevention of the growth of new blood vessels) properties are wonderful for preventing or delaying diabetic retinopathy.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is one of the three main omega-3 fatty acids and is particularly important for your retina and brain. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are the other two main fatty acids and are just as important for maintaining your overall health.

The best way to get omega-3 fatty acids is through food. Fish (especially coldwater fatty fish like herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, and tuna), fortified foods (like eggs, milk, soy beverages, and yogurt), nuts, plant oils, and seeds are all great resources for omega-3s. If you have an aversion to any of these, supplements can provide what you need as well. Algal oil, cod liver oil, krill oil, and fish oil come in a variety of dosages and forms so you can get the amount recommended for you by your doctor.

Your eyes give you the precious gift of vision. Take care of your eyes the best you can with the help of Dr. Nicholas Rutkowski and the rest of the team at Nicholas Rutkowski, OD & Associates. To learn more about omega-3s and eye health, or to schedule an eye exam, contact us via phone or our online form.

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