Dry eye syndrome can be an outcome of omega-3 fatty acids deficiency, a study has found.
The condition causes symptoms such as irritation, pain, dryness and a sandy or gritty sensation in the eye.
Untreated dry eye syndrome can result in scarring of the cornea and eventually loss of vision.
The disease affects millions of people’s quality of life, but a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids might be able to treat it.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats considered to be essential as our body cannot produce them.
These type of fats are mostly found in oily fish and have many health benefits, therefore they are known as “good” fats.
The three type of omega-3 fatty acids are EPA and DHA, found in certain fish, and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which is mainly found in plant oils.
Salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, oysters, sea bass, herring, trout, cod, tuna and algae are all sources of EPA and DHA.
Seeds and nuts such as chia seed, walnuts, hemp seeds, cashews and almonds are good sources of ALA.
Researchers suggest that the imbalance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in American’s dietary habits is linked to the onset of this eye disease.
The Western diet can elevate the risk of dry eye syndrome since it is low in omega-3 but in contrast contains a very high amount of omega-6.
Cooking oils (sunflower, corn, soybean), salad dressing, mayonnaise and meats are high in omega-6.
Dr Biljana Miljanovic, the study’s first author, said:
“Dry eye syndrome impacts quality of life, productivity and safety for millions of people.
Unfortunately, there is little advice clinicians can offer about its prevention.
Our study set out to examine how changing dietary habits in America, primarily a shift in the balance of essential fatty acids we are consuming, may be associated with onset of this eye disease.
We found that a high intake of omega 3 fatty acids, often referred to as a ‘good’ fat, commonly found in fish and walnuts, is associated with a protective effect.
Conversely, a higher ratio of omega 6, a fat found in many cooking and salad oils and animal meats, compared to omega 3 in the diet, may increase the risk of dry eye syndrome.”
The study found that the risk of dry eye syndrome was reduced by 20 percent in participants who had omega-3 in their diet.
Currently, Western diets consists of 15:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, which is linked to a 2.5-fold greater risk of dry eye syndrome.
In this study, participants who ate five servings (113 gram per serving) of tuna a week were at 68 percent lower risk of dry eye disease in contrast to those who had only one serving a week.
Dry eyes can result in serious problems related to visual activities.
The discomfort and pain is more prominent during driving, reading, using a computer, watching TV, or focusing on a task.
One of the problems associated with dry eye syndrome is reduction in the quantity and quality of tears.
Without moisture the eyes become inflamed and this can lead to different types of disorders.
About the author
Mina Dean is a Nutritionist and Food Scientist. She holds a BSc in Human Nutrition and an MSc in Food Science.
The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Miljanovic et al., 2005).