Dry eye disease (DED) is a pretty common eye problem—approximately 30% of Canadians experience symptoms associated with dry eyes. Symptoms can include burning or scratchiness, blurred vision, and redness.
There are many treatment options to manage and minimize the symptoms of dry eyes. Apart from these, diet can also play a crucial role in treating dry eyes.
Let’s learn more about dry eyes, their causes and symptoms, and how the foods we put into our bodies can help maintain healthy eyes.
What Is Dry Eye Disease?
Dry eye disease is ocular discomfort mainly caused by insufficient tear production or production of poor quality tears. The normal tear film comprises 3 layers:
- Oil: The oil or lipid layer prevents tears from drying out or evaporating too quickly.
- Water: The tear film is mostly water. This aqueous layer protects the eyes from foreign objects, dust, and dirt.
- Mucin: The mucin or mucous layer keeps the tears on the eye’s surface.
The eyes dry out with altered tear film stability and function, such as in lack of oil from meibomian gland dysfunction, lack of water from the lacrimal gland, decreased tear secretion rate, and a higher incidence of bacterial infection.
How Does Diet Help with Dry Eye?
Treating mild dry eyes usually involves using artificial tears to compensate for lack of production and treating the underlying causes. An additional form of treatment includes diet and nutrition. A healthy diet can support overall health and help with dry eye symptoms.
So which foods provide the necessary vitamins and nutrients your body needs to keep your eyes hydrated and healthy?
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce and soothe inflammation in the eyelids. They also increase the quality of oil secreted by the meibomian glands and prevents tears from evaporating in dry eye disease.
These types of fish are the safest to eat and they have high omega-3 fatty acids. Remember the “S.M.A.S.H.” acronym:
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids also include:
- Nuts and seeds such as flax, chia, hemp, and walnuts
- Vegetable oil
- Green leafy vegetables
If it is difficult for you to obtain omega-3 through your diet, you should consider taking omega-3 supplements. However, omega-3’s are not all the same so look for these 3 key ingredients when buying an omega-3 supplement:
- Make sure the omega-3 is re-esterified triglyceride
- Look for an EPA:DHA ratio of 3:1
- Consume a daily serving of 2000 mg or more per day
Below are omega-3’s found in your eye doctor’s cabinet and they meet the 3 standards of omega-3 supplement care as stated above. You can try PRN omega-3 (capsule or liquid form):
There are various vitamins that can promote healthy eyes and aid in easing dry eye symptoms. These include:
Dry eyes can signal a vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A increases the turnover of corneal epithelial cells, where the loss or damage of these cells is present in patients with dry eyes. Beta carotene converts to vitamin A, and foods high in this include:
- Sweet potatoes
Vitamin C provides antioxidants that protect against oxidative stress and helps maintain functioning tear film. Foods high in vitamin C include:
- Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, grapefruit
A deficiency in vitamin D is linked to dry eyes. Vitamin D reduces inflammation on the eye’s surface and improves tear secretions. You can get vitamin D from the sun, supplements, and the following foods:
- Fortified dairy products
- Egg yolk
Vitamin E protects your eyes from cell damage, reduces oxidation and low-grade inflammation associated with dry eye syndrome, and boosts the immune system. Foods high in vitamin E include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Wheat cereal
- Sweet potato
Zinc is a mineral that helps transport vitamin A from the liver to the retina. It also makes melanin, a pigment that protects the eyes. You can get zinc from the following foods:
- Whole grains
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
These are antioxidants that keep the cells in your eyes healthy. Foods high in both include:
- Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards
One study shows that the administration of probiotic strains effectively reduces dry eye syndrome. Another study shows that a bifidobacterium mixture, made of 5 strains, may successfully treat and benefit people with dry eye syndrome. These had an anti-inflammatory effect and improved tear secretion.
Foods for Dry Eye Relief
A proper diet can contribute to alleviating dry eye disease symptoms, as can drinking lots of water to keep the eyes hydrated. Incorporating the above foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals decreases oxidative stress, systemic inflammation, and the risk of developing chronic and inflammatory dry eye.