Most of our patients are familiar with some of the health benefits of consuming omega-3 fatty acids. Doctors often recommend these healthy fats to prevent heart disease, to promote healthy skin, and to lower bad cholesterol levels. Very few people, however, realize that omega-3’s can also be beneficial for eye health too. Various studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may be used to decrease discomfort from dry eyes and to treat a condition known as blepharitis, an inflammatory condition of the eyelids. Though the most common dietary source of these fats is fatty fish, there are many vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids too.
One of the most common causes of eye discomfort, temporary blurred vision, and redness is dryness. Eye dryness has affected, at one time or another, the majority of our patients and for some it is a chronic, significant source of discomfort. Dry eyes can come from environmental and internal causes alike. It tends to be more prevalent in women, worsen with age and is sometimes affected by hormonal and medication changes, but it is common among in men and in most age groups. Treatments range from over-the-counter drops and ointments, prescription drops, and even minor tear-duct procedures.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology reported last year that Omega-3 intake may also reduce discomfort from dry eyes. A randomized trial showed that tear quality and dryness was improved, though slightly, with the routine consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.
This condition, which is characterized by red, crusty, inflamed eyelids, is another very common cause for eye discomfort. It is a chronic condition in which the naturally-occurring bacteria on the eyelids becomes overactive, causing irritation, inflammation, “sleep” in the eye and even clogged oil glands, which may lead to styes. Blepharitis is also known to cause or worsen dry eyes.
Some very simple treatment options are available for this condition. We often recommend that our patients with blepharitis clean their eyelids daily with diluted baby shampoo, that they use warm compresses on their eyelids, or, for more severe cases, that they take prescription medicines. Many patients, however, don’t realize that omega-3 fatty acids can help symptoms of blepharitis also.
The National Institute of Health stated in 2008 that patients taking omega-3 supplements saw significant improvements in symptoms of blepharitis. The anti-inflammatory properties of these fatty acids were shown to decrease the dysfunction of the oil-producing glands on the eyelids and contribute to an overall decrease in crusting, redness, irritation and even dryness.
For the treatment of blepharitis, we recommend taking 1000 milligrams of an omega-3 supplement twice a day.
American diets are deficient in these good fats. We tend to consume processed oils and meats high in Omega-6, such as red meats, more often than we consume foods that are high in Omega-3, such as cold-water fish and unprocessed oils.
For most of our patients, we recommend eating at least one good source of omega-3’s per day to get the benefits of these fatty acids. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include the following:
|Food Source||Omega-3 Content|
|Salmon, cold water, 4 oz.||1.7 grams|
|Sardines, canned and drained 4 oz.||1.8 grams|
|Mackerel, canned and drained, 4 oz.||2.2 grams|
|Scallops, cooked, 4 oz||0.5 grams|
|Walnuts, 1 oz.||2.6 grams|
|Flax seeds, ground, 1 oz.||1.8 grams|
|Canola oil, 1 Tbsp.||1.3 grams|
|Soy beans or edamame, ½ cup||0.5 grams|
|Tofu, 4 oz.||0.3 grams|
Chart Source: Tufts University Open Courseware. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” Web. 18 October 2012. <http://ocw.tufts.edu/data/47/531409.pdf>
Supplements are an easy way to be sure that you’re getting enough Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. These usually take the form of flax seed oil or fish oil supplements. When choosing fish oil, be sure to choose a good quality brand to ensure you’re getting the safest, most effective oils. Some brands we like include the following:
Nature Made – Their line of Omega-3’s includes fish oil, flax seed oil and a 100% vegetarian, gelatin-free omega-3 supplement.
Nature’s Bounty – This company makes both omega-3 capsules and liquid supplements for those who do not like swallowing pills.
Nordic Naturals – This comprehensive line of omega-3 supplements contains fish, flax, and algae supplements in many different forms.
For the treatment of blepharitis and dry eye, we recommend 1 gram (1000 mg) of an omega-3 supplement, twice a day.
It is important that you ask your primary care doctor before starting any supplement. For some patients, omega-3 fatty acids supplements may be contraindicated.
Please let us know if you have any specific questions about nutrition and eye health.
Doctors Tarantino, Cho and Burroughs
Tarantino Eye Center