I always thought that is was carrots that were good for your eyesight, writes Hillary Freeman. But it’s eating fish – or rather omega-3 – fatty acids that oily fish contain – that boosts your eye health.
At my annual eye test a year ago, my optometrist said my eyes were so dry and irritated I might have to stop wearing contact lenses. Dry eye is common, although there are many causes, including some autoimmune diseases, environmental factors and ageing.
I’m shortsighted but don’t like wearing glasses so, hoping to avoid a four-eyed fate, I wore my contact lenses as little as possible, but the dryness persisted. Six months ago, I started to take an omega-3 and omega-6 supplement to improve my general health. Then, earlier this month, came this year’s check-up. I asked my optometrist whether my dry eye was improving.
“What problem?” she said. “Your eyes are healthy.” Could the change have had anything to do with my supplement, I wondered.
“Yes,” she confirmed.
I have since discovered growing evidence that fish oils can prevent and relieve dry eyes. It is believed that omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel as well as flaxseed oil) have an anti-inflammatory effect, improve the function of the glands that lubricate the eye and stimulate tear production. A study in 2005 looked at the dietary habits of 32,470 women. Those with a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to develop dry eye. Eating tuna five to six times a week seemed to decrease the risk of dry eye.
Another study in 2003 found that patients with Sjorgens syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes dry eye, had a lower intake of omega-3 acids.
“Nutritionists have been talking about a link between omega-3s and dry eye for years,” says Sheraz Daya, consultant ophthalmologist at the Centre for Sight, East Grinstead. “But it’s only since the late Nineties that the ophthalmic community has taken this seriously.”