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Dry Eyes: Fish Oil Vs Flaxseed Oil

fish jumping from river

Those of you who suffer from dry eyes know that it can be very uncomfortable. Dry eye syndrome is that itchy, watery, stinging feeling you get because you have stared at something too long without blinking. There are a number of steps you can take to help alleviate the symptoms of irritating dry eyes. This week’s blog will touch on two types of oils that are recommended to help reduce the irritation. These include fish oil and flaxseed oil. Read on to see which one is better and why.

Some of you may be wondering about why ingesting fish oil or flaxseed oil is even related to dry eye treatment. Well, these oils contain important properties (which our bodies cannot make and must get from food) called fatty acids, which are essential to good eye health. They aid in cell formation and proper eye function. The type of fatty acids that fish oil and flaxseed oil contain are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicoapentaenoic acid (EPA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). These are classified as Omega 3s. The American Academy of Ophthalmology explains on their website that, “Omega-3 oils appear to improve function in the eye’s meibomian glands, which produce the oily part of tears. Improved function of those glands can ease dry eye symptoms.”

Want to know more about Dry Eye Syndrome?

Check out our previous blog post on Dry Eye Syndrome.


Dry Eyes: Fish Oil vs. Flaxseed Oil

Let’s start off with fish oil. Fish oil contains DHA and EPA. These types of omega 3s are ready to be used up by our bodies immediately. A good reason why fish oil has been touted as a great source of omega 3s. Some people avoid fish oil or at least too much of it because of high mercury concerns. Others don’t enjoy the “fishy” aftertaste. However, with some due diligence, it is possible to find brands of fish oil that are derived from fish who have low mercury levels. Additionally, many brands now come in fruit flavors that have little to no aftertaste. It is important to remember that including the beneficial food, in this case, fish, within your diet should be most important. If you are not eating enough fish, then consider supplementing your diet with fish oil capsules. It’s important to speak to your family doctor if you have preexisting conditions which may interfere with an increased amount of omega 3s.

What about flaxseed oil? Flaxseed oil is consumed by many vegetarians as a source of omega 3. It contains the previously mentioned ALA type of omega 3. Once consumed the body converts the ALA into DHA and EPA, which is the two sources of omega 3s that have been shown to provide eye health benefits. The biggest problem with flaxseed oil is the conversion rate. Harvard Medical School published an article Why Not Flaxseed oil? in which this problem of conversion is detailed:

“The main problem with ALA is that to have the good effects attributed to omega-3s, it must be converted by a limited supply of enzymes into EPA and DHA. As a result, only a small fraction of it has omega-3’s effects — 10%–15%, maybe less. The remaining 85%–90% gets burned up as energy or metabolized in other ways.”


Which Oil Is More Beneficial?

Given that our bodies are only deriving a small portion of DHA and EPA from a daily intake of flaxseed oil, it is clear that fish oil is more beneficial in delivering the necessary omega 3s needed to help dry eyes. However, it’s important to properly inspect the label of your fish oil to see how much DHA and EPA you are getting from the recommended dosage. Dr. Sharma recommends patients consume 1,000-1,500mg of omega 3s daily for dry eyes.


What About The Vegetarians & Vegans?

There is an alternative to fish oil these days, it is derived from the algae that fish feed on. Companies have now started sourcing omega 3 oil from algae successfully, which contains both DHA and EPA. This source of omega 3s is considered more sustainable than fish oil and vegetarian and vegan-friendly. The jury is still out on if whether or not algae oil provides users with the same exact properties as fish oil as enough research has not been conducted in this area. But, it is clear that it is a better source of omega 3 (than flaxseed oil) for those not wanting to consume fish oil. Again, it is important to look at the label to see how much DHA and EPA are in each serving.


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