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Baylor College of Medicine News

Combination nutrition supplement may improve dry eye symptoms

A combination nutrition supplement that contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and omega-3 fatty acids may improve symptoms related to severe dry eye, according to a new study led by researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and published in the current issue of the journal Cornea.

"There has been a lot of interest in using nutrition supplements to help with dry eye and irritation," said Dr. Stephen Pflugfelder, professor of ophthalmology at BCM. "Previous studies have linked diets that include higher levels of these types of fatty acids (such as fish) as being associated with a lower prevalence of dry eye."

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca

In this study, Pflugfelder and his colleagues used a specially designed supplement with a specific mix of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and gamma-linolenic acid to find out if the mixture would reduce signs and symptoms of moderate to severe dry eye, also called keratoconjunctivitis sicca, in post-menopausal women. They enrolled a total of 38 women with the disorder, who were assigned at random to two groups. Those in one group received the supplement and those in the other an inactive pill or placebo.

Patients took the two pills, twice daily for six months, with evaluations at one, three and six months.

Evaluations included:

  • Questionnaires that assessed the frequency and severity of dry eye irritation.
  • The Schirmer’s test which measures the amount of tears produced.
  • Tear break-up time - the time required for dry spots to appear on the corneal surface after blinking (a method of determining the stability of the tear film).
  • Topographic corneal smoothness or measurement of the smoothness of the corneal surface.
  • Decrease inflammation.

Another test was performed that picked up cells on the eye surface that were associated with markers for inflammation (CD11c integrin and HLA-DR)

The researchers found that the group taking the supplement had significant improvement in irritation symptoms, better corneal smoothness and lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers than those who took a placebo.

"Dry eye can range from a minor annoyance to a debilitating disease where the patient has constant, burning light sensitivity," said Pflugfelder. "This study contributes strong evidence to support the use of an oral essential fatty acid supplement to decrease inflammation, which is the cause for pain."

The study was funded by ScienceBased Health, which manufactured the supplement.

Other researchers included Dr. John D. Sheppard, Jr. of Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, VA; Drs. Ekta Kakkar, Ruhi Singh, Andrew J.McClellan and Mitchell P.Weikert of BCM; and Dr. Stephen V. Scoper, Thomas J. Joly and Walter O. Whitley of the Virginia Eye Consultants, Norfolk, VA.

Pflugfelder holds the James and Margaret Elkins Chair of Ophthalmology at BCM.