What Women Need to Know about their Eyes: Omega-3s Might Help Dry Eye Syndrome

By Elizabeth Somer, Registered Dietician and
Author of Age Proof Your Body

Itching, burning, irritation, redness and excessive tearing are all symptoms of one of the most common eye problems ― dry eye syndrome. More than 10 million Americans suffer from dry eyes. Anyone can develop the problem, but women during and following menopause are at a heightened risk of developing this condition.

So what causes dry eyes? It is usually caused by a problem with the quality of the oily tear film that lubricates the eyes and helps prevent evaporation of the eye’s natural moisture. However, one of the most common reasons for the eyes to be dry is aging. The human body produces 60 percent less oil at age 65 then at age 18. And studies have found that this effect is more pronounced in women, who tend to have drier skin than men. Without as much oil to seal the watery layer, the tear film evaporates much faster, leaving dry areas on the cornea.

Beyond the eye drops that lubricate the eyes and provide synthetic “tears,” there might be something in your kitchen that could also help relieve the symptoms of dry eyes. Researchers at both Harvard and at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston report that fish oils might be helpful in preventing or treating this problem. For example, in the Brigham study, more than 32,000 women from the Women’s Health Study, aged 45 to 84, provided information on their diet, and nearly 5 percent of the women reported problems with dry eyes. Results showed that women who consumed the most omega-3 fats from fish had a 17% lower risk of suffering from dry eyes when compared to women who consumed little or no seafood.

And, it’s also important to note that not all omega-3 fats are equal. The omega-3 fat in plants, such as flax and walnuts, may help lower heart disease risk, but does not appear to help with dry eyes. It is the two omega-3s in fish, called DHA and EPA, that are most helpful.

Need some recipe ideas that are rich in eye healthy omega-3s DHA and EPA to help you ward off dry eye? Try Smoked Salmon Pizza with Dill & Lemon or Seared Tuna with Orange, Avocado, and Cilantro Salsa – both meals are bound to satisfy your appetite, while also helping to protect your vision!

Although no optimal dose has been determined for maintaining healthy eyes, the American Heart Association recommends at least two weekly servings of fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, or sardines. If you don’t like to eat a lot of fish or are vegetarian, then look for foods fortified with the omega-3 fat DHA, or take a supplement, such as fish oil capsules that contain at least 200 milligrams of DHA or a gram of the combination of EPA and DHA.

Eating healthy and adding omega-3s to your diet can help alleviate some of the symptoms related to dry eyes, but it’s also important to work with your doctor of optometry to develop a plan to help you cope with these problems. Many vision issues are related to hormonal changes, hormone replacement therapy, and estrogen levels. To find a doctor of optometry near you who can help address questions related to female-related vision changes.

[References: Miljanovic B, Trivedi K, Dana M, et al: Relation between dietary n-3 and n-6 fatty acids and clinically diagnosed dry eye syndrome in women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2005;82:887-893.

Saadia R, Yiping J, Tatiana E, et al: Topical Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids for Treatment of Dry Eye. Archives of Ophthalmology 2008;126:219-225.]

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