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Is Fish Oil Really Useless for Dry Eyes?

Research suggests that fish oil may be useless for dry eyes, but some readers have gotten significant relief by taking high-dose fish oil supplements.

Fish oil has a reputation for helping ease the symptoms of dry eye, but a recent study found it was no more helpful than the olive oil placebo the scientists used. (Both groups–those taking fish oil and those taking olive oil–reported that their symptoms of dry eye improved.) Is fish oil truly useless for dry eyes? Some readers don’t think so.

Readers Don’t All Find Fish Oil Useless for Dry Eyes:

Q. My ophthalmologist recommended fish oil capsules, but I noticed no benefit from a 2400 mg daily dose. However, a second ophthalmologist said that my eyes would be the last organ to receive the oil. She suggested I try increasing the dose if I could tolerate it.

I gradually went up to three 2400 mg capsules. I have now gone from using eyedrops about 20 times a day to 5 or 6 times a day. As a retired statistician, I can assure you that is a statistically significant difference!

A. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine (April 13, 2018) found that 3000 mg of fish oil was no better than placebo for alleviating dry eye symptoms. That said, your experience sounds compelling. And we wouldn’t doubt you on the statistics, though it is an experiment with an N of 1.

Readers Share Their Stories:

Many other readers also believe fish oil helps their dry eyes.

One wrote:

“Fish oil most definitely helps my dry eye problem. As soon as I started taking 2000 mg a day, I could tell a difference. If I go off it, my eyes are dry within a couple days. The brand matters.”

Gayle in Maryland reported:

“I have Sjogren’s [an autoimmune condition that causes extremely dry eyes] and fish oil worked for me. I was taking it for another reason and after about a month I noticed a great improvement in my dry eye and eye pain where I didn’t need to use liquid tears eye drops as often. If I forget to take it or stop for a while, the dry eye issue worsens. My husband recently developed a dry eye problem and it has helped him also. We do take a couple pills a day, not just one.”

Thea in Wilmington, NC, shared her experience:

“Since I began taking fish oil supplements a few years ago, I can report I rarely have dry-eye problems that I used to have. In fact, if I’m travelling for a week or so and have forgotten to include fish-oil in my daily vitamins on the road, I’ve noticed it. Perhaps olive oil would work as well – since their placebo-controlled trial found no statistical significance!?”

On the other hand, Larry in Raleigh, NC, got no benefit:

“Useless for dry eyes. A big con. 1000 mg daily did nothing. 3000 mg daily also did nothing but had the side effect of gastric upsets.

“What actually solved the dry-eye problem was really hot compresses, starting at four times daily and working down to morning and evening. The “meibomian” glands in the eyes are like the oil glands that gave us acne fits in our teens. As we age, they cake up with oil that’s turned to a waxy substance. Regular hot compresses soften and release the wax, just as they helped our acne. You can actually feel the glands unclog sometimes.”

The meibomian glands that Larry mentioned are the critical players in a high-tech approach to treating symptoms of dry eyes.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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