Omega-3 brings tears to the eyes of dry eye sufferers

Omega-3 may provide symptomatic relief to dry eye sufferers. A study conducted in the year 2008 led by Dr. Marian S. Macsai, investigated the potential benefits of omega-3 supplementation in treating dry eyes. Results of the study were published in the journal, ‘Transactions of the American Ophthalmological Society.’

The study involved recruiting patients aged between 38 and 64 years, suffering from blepharitis and meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), conditions that result in dry eyes. These are common problems seen in mature eyes. Normally, the eye produces a layer of tears to cover its surface for lubrication, nourishment and protection, known as a tear film. Patients suffering from dry eyes cannot produced enough tear film and lose extensive amounts through evaporation.

Blepharitis is a disease where the eyelids are inflamed and swollen by the body’s protective inflammatory responses to irritants that come into contact with the eyes. The meibomian glands located in the top and bottom of the eye lids can become affected, which are responsible for producing the oil component in tears. Inflammation unintentionally exaggerates these eye problems. Essential omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties so it was hypothesized that supplementation could relieve these symptoms.

To evaluate this, 38 patients suffering from blepharitis and MGD were randomly assigned to receive a placebo or a treatment capsule, six times a day for 12 months. One treatment capsule contained 1000 mg of flaxseed oil which is approximately made up of 55% omega-3 fatty acids. One placebo capsule contained 1000 mg of olive oil which contained no omega-3 fatty acids.

All participants were scheduled for check-ups every three months during the year.  At visits, participants’ eyes were extensively examined by clinical tests which included:

  • A questionnaire called the, ‘Ocular Surface Disease Index (OSDI)’ scored the severity of the patients’ dry eye symptoms at every visit
  • A tear break-up time test timed how long it took for dry spots to appear after a blink
  • The appearance and number of meibomian glands were examined and secretion samples were taken every six months from the meibomian glands to analyse the oil composition in the tear film

Thirty participants completed the study. Initially, both groups started with similar scores but by the end of the trial, the flaxseed (omega-3) group had significantly improved in all the main test scores from day 0 and demonstrated a significantly greater overall improvement in dry eye discomfort.

The group of individuals that took the omega-3 supplement (flaxseed) had improved tear break-up time, quality and quantity of meibomian glands and meibomian secretion scores compared to baseline, indicating that omega-3 can reduce dryness of the eyes.

In addition, the flaxseed group had a significant increase in omega-3 content in their blood and a significantly healthier ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids than the placebo group, highlighting further overall health benefits.

The findings demonstrated that omega-3 supplementation may reduce the discomfort felt by patients with dry eye, blepharitis and MGD since omega-3 supplementation promotes ‘good’ fatty acid metabolism that decreases inflammation which is one major cause of these diseases.

Reference

Mascai, M.S., The role of omega-3 dietary supplementation in blepharitis and meibomian gland dysfunction (an AOS thesis). Trans Am Ophthalmol Soc, 2008. 106: p.336-56.

 

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