More than eight million people in the United States, predominantly women, suffer from dry eye syndrome, a painful and debilitating eye disease.
In the first study of its kind to examine modifiable risk factors, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and Schepens Eye Research Institute (SERI) found that the amount, type and ratio of essential fatty acids in the diet may play a key role in dry eye prevention in women. The study is published in the October 2005 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
According to lead author Biljana Miljanovic, MD, of the Divisions of Preventive Medicine and Aging at BWH, "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."
Dry eye syndrome is characterized by a decline in the quality or quantity of tears that normally bathe the eye to keep it moist and functioning well. The condition causes symptoms such as pain, irritation, dryness, and/or a sandy or gritty sensation. If untreated, severe dry eye syndrome can eventually lead to scarring or ulceration of the cornea, and loss of vision. Victims can experience symptoms so constant and severe that reading, driving, working and participating in other vision-related activities of daily life are difficult or impossible.
In this study, the researchers report the following specific findings: