Can Fish Oil Supplements Help With Dry Eyes?

Every year, millions of Americans are affected by dry eye — a condition in which the eyes don't produce enough tears (per Penn Medicine). Dry eye tends to be accompanied by symptoms like burning, redness, and an uncomfortable gritty feeling in the eyes, which can have a serious impact on quality of life. While dry eye can be linked to a number of potential causes — including aging, illness, hormonal changes, poor blinking habits, and the use of certain medications — the bothersome symptoms remain the same, regardless of the cause.

After giving up his search for that rascal, Ferris Bueller, Ben Stein undertook unenthusiastic advocation of Clear Eyes eye drops: the supposed solution to all of your dry-eye related issues (via YouTube). And while eye drops can, indeed, prove useful in the treatment of dry eyes, it seems like Mr. Stein never heard of fish oil!

Fish oil supplements contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – two omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for muscle activity, cell growth, and disease prevention (per Mayo Clinic). And while fish oil supplements are often touted for their ability to lubricate the joints, new research suggests that they may be successful in lubricating dry eyes as well.

How can fish oil help with dry eyes?

Research regarding whether or not fish oil can improve symptoms of dry eye has produced mixed results. A 2018 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine reported that women who took fish oil supplements for a year saw no greater improvement to their dry eye symptoms than those who were given a placebo. However, a 2005 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that participants who included more omega-3s in their diets were 17% less likely to suffer from dry eye syndrome than those who ate little to no fish.

Dr. Stephanie Marioneaux, an ophthalmologist and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, told The New York Times that because dry eye can cause inflammation on the eyelid, as well as the surface of the eye, fish oil may be useful in reducing the inflammation and, thereby, decreasing feelings of discomfort. What's more, the American Academy of Ophthalmology also suggests that omega-3s may have the ability to support, and even improve, the functioning of the meibomian glands. These glands — located along the rim of the eyelid — produce an oily substance that mixes with our tears, preventing the speedy drying of tears.