NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Diets high in omega-3 fatty acids and oily fish appear to lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), according to pooled data from nine “observational” studies that evaluated omega-3 or fish intake in the prevention of AMD.

AMD is the leading cause of severe vision loss among elderly people, the Australian research team notes in the latest issue of Archives of Ophthalmology. New treatments for AMD carry risks and treat only certain forms of the disease. Therefore, preventing AMD by modifying risk factors, like cigarette smoking, “remains an important public health strategy,” they write.

The findings of Dr. Elaine W-T. Chong and colleagues at the University of Melbourne are based on a total of 88,974 people, which included 1847 cases of early AMD and 1356 cases of late (more advanced) AMD.

According to the researchers, a high dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids was associated with a 38 percent reduction in the risk of late AMD, while eating fish twice a week was associated with a reduced risk of both early and late AMD.

Despite these results, the researchers do not recommend omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and fish intake for AMD prevention at this time because there are no randomized clinical trials to support their conclusions.

“Although this meta-analysis suggests that consumption of fish and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may be associated with a lower risk of AMD, there is insufficient evidence from the current literature, with few prospective studies and no randomized clinical trials, to support their routine consumption for AMD prevention,” Chong and colleagues conclude.

SOURCE: Archives of Ophthalmology, June 2008.