BROOKLINE, U.S.A. Dry eye treated orally with flaxseed oil
has a high success rate, according to a 3-year follow-up of 200 patients.
We found that 85% had total relief of their symptoms at the
2-month check, said investigator Carol F. Boerner, MD, an ophthalmologist
in private solo practice here. These patients, including my mother,
commonly reported that the burning and stinging of their dry eyes went away in
about 2 weeks. The results lasted as long as the treatment was continued.
Patients also reported that dry skin symptoms, such as cracked cuticles;
flaky elbows, legs and feet; and itchy backs were alleviated.
Dr. Boerner said that dry eye complaints are the most frequent
reason for consultation in her practice. Whether its complaints
from young people using video display terminals (VDTs) all day or older folks
trying to read the newspaper, tear film stability is an issue, Dr.
Boerner said. A healthy tear film is important for comfortable contact
lens wear, as well as prompt healing from corneal abrasions or laser in situ
Dr. Boerner believes that meibomian gland dysfunction leads to
oily layered tear defects, which permit aqueous layer evaporation and
subsequent surface damage and symptoms. When one of her patients cured
his rosacea with parenteral flaxseed oil, I wondered if the burning and
stinging of dry eyes could also be helped with the same supplement.
The major components of flaxseed oil are alpha-linolenic acid
omega 3 (57%), linoleic acid omega 6 (15%) and oleic acid omega 9 (18%).
Flaxseed oil is the worlds richest source of omega 3 fatty acids
twice as much as fish oil, for instance, Dr. Boerner said.
Likewise, alpha-linolenic and linoleic acids are essential to our diet
because our body cannot make them, yet we use them to make other fatty acids
our body must have.
These are also important components of the stratum corneum for
skin stability and act as precursors to prostaglandins, which affect
inflammation and arteriole muscle tone, among other actions, Dr. Boerner
said. Furthermore, flaxseed oil causes hair and nails to grow more
quickly, lowers triglycerides and makes platelets less sticky.
The 200 patients in the prospective study were all from Dr.
Boerners general practice and ranged in age from 22 to 85 years. All
patients were given 2,000 mg of flaxseed oil orally every morning. I
chose 2,000 mg because thats what helped my rosacea patient, Dr.
Patients were evaluated at 2 months and then at yearly intervals
for 3 additional years. The patients were evaluated by noting changes in
reported symptomatology of dryness and observation of the quantity and quality
of meibomian gland secretions, Dr. Boerner said. We found that the
change in tear break-up times did not really correlate very well with symptoms,
because the values could change from morning to night on the same day, in the
same patient. The symptoms monitored were burning, stinging, redness at
lid margins and the complaint of dry skin.
We evaluated the oil flow on all four lids by compression
with a finger at the lash line and observation of the oil flow: low, medium or
normal, Dr. Boerner said. The quality of the oils themselves was
graded by color, as well as consistency: clear to cottage-cheesy. As
treatment progressed, clear oils could be seen surrounding the central
cores of thick white oils in the gland orifices. The punctate epithelial
keratopathy disappeared as symptoms improved.
Flaxseed oil also helped increase the contact-lens wearing time
in patients with borderline dry eyes and contact lens intolerance. There
was much less use of re-wetting drops in these patients, Dr. Boerner
said. I have many Medicaid patients who come in for their monthly dry eye
check to receive their free bottle of tears. Now, taking flaxseed oil by mouth,
they do not need the artificial tears and they feel better, too, Dr.
Boerner estimated that flaxseed therapy is about 25% of the cost of artificial
Medications that deter
The 15% of patients who were not completely cured used a number
of medications that caused dry eye and rendered therapy ineffective:
concomitant use of diuretics, antihistamines, certain birth control pills and
antidepressants. Unfortunately, flaxseed oil at 2,000 mg a day does not
help Sjogrens syndrome or other autoimmune surface diseases, Dr.
Boerner said. However, it is very helpful for fibromyalgia at 4,000 mg a
Flaxseed oil can also help patients on cholesterol-lowering
drugs. Concomitant use of flaxseed oil will make the eyes more
comfortable and further lower cholesterol by as much as 10 points, Dr.
Overall, there were two major groups of patients who benefited
from flaxseed oil: those with little or no oil flow and those whose meibomian
gland secretions caused burning when pressed into the tear film.
I hypothesize that the flaxseed oil affects the quantity of
the oil in the tear film by increasing the oily layer thickness, Dr.
Boerner said. The quality of the oils are also affected by a change in
their components, so they become clear and less irritating.
Flaxseed oil may be purchased in many health food stores. Dr.
Boerner said, The liquid oil tastes very good mixed in yogurt.
Capsule form is also available, with a recommended start of two capsules a day.
For Your Information:
- Carol F. Boerner, MD, can be reached at Eyes of Boston, 1101
Beacon St., Brookline, MA 02446-5502 U.S.A.; +(1) 617-566-0062; fax: +(1)
617-734-3264. Dr. Boerner has no financial interest in flaxseed oil.