Dry eye is one of the most common disorders treated by ophthalmologists — and if you’re like most folks bothered by itchy, irritated dry eyes, your first impulse may be to reach for over-the-counter eye drops to get some relief. But new research reveals the potential of diet to alleviate this condition, specifically the possible therapeutic role of omega-3 fatty acids, found naturally in various fish, nuts and seeds.

One study, recently published by the University of Texas, put 21 patients with dry eye on a daily oral dose of fish/flaxseed oil for 90 days. Compared to a control group, the fish oil group enjoyed a dramatic 54% increase in tear flow rate! At the end of the experiment, 70% of those taking fish/flax oil presented no dry eye symptoms — compared to just 7% of the controls. Researchers speculate that omega-3 fatty acids might inhibit inflammation of tear ducts, relieving constrictions that impede tear volume and flow. Omega-3s may also support the moisturizing role of a natural eye gland secretion called meibum.

The results add to the growing list of possible benefits associated with increased intake of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and nuts.For example, recently we reported on research demonstrating a reduced likelihood of developing age-related hearing loss among those who ate fish more frequently. Other studies have linked either omega-3 or fish consumption with reduced joint inflammation,higher test scores, slower rates of age-related cognitive decline, and even reduced risk of some cancers.Fish offers advantages to weight watchers as well: Not only is fish lower in saturated fat and calories, fish protein may help dieters feel fuller, longer.

Bonus: Lace up your running shoes to lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration. One study found a significantly lower risk of the eye ailment among those who racked up the most running miles over an eight-year observation period.
Published May 1, 2011