Supplements for Dry Eyes: Dry eye disease is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Characterized by irritation, redness, blurred vision, and a gritty sensation, dry eyes can significantly impact your quality of life. While artificial tears and eye drops provide temporary relief, addressing the root causes of dry eye through nutritional supplementation can have more lasting effects.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the leading supplements for dry eyes based on scientific research. You’ll learn how key nutrients like omega-3s, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals can help treat dry eye, reduce inflammation, and promote ocular surface health. We’ll also provide dosage recommendations and tips for choosing high-quality vision supplements.
What Causes Dry Eyes?
Before exploring nutritional supplements for dry eyes, it’s helpful to understand what causes this frustrating condition in the first place.
Some of the key risk factors for dry eye disease include:
- Aging– Tear production tends to decrease as we get older.
- Gender– Women are more likely to develop dry eyes due to hormonal changes.
- Medications– Drugs like antihistamines, birth control pills, anti-depressants, and diuretics can reduce tear secretion.
- Medical conditions– Autoimmune disorders like Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis are linked to dry eyes.
- Environment– Dry, windy conditions, air conditioning, and indoor heating can accelerate tear evaporation.
- Screen time– Staring at digital screens for too long increases tear film instability.
- Contact lens wear– Contacts absorb tears and disrupt the tear film.
- Eye surgeries– Procedures like LASIK can damage corneal nerves, resulting in lower reflex tear production.
Reduced tear production, excessive tear evaporation, and poor tear quality are the main mechanisms behind dry eye. This causes inflammation, discomfort, and ultimately damage to the surface of the eye if left untreated.
Fortunately, supporting ocular health through nutrition can help improve tear film stability, increase lubrication, reduce inflammation, and relieve dry eyes.
Best Vitamins and Minerals for Dry Eyes
Ensuring adequate intake of key vitamins and minerals is an important first step in managing dry eye symptoms. Deficiencies in certain micronutrients have been linked to an increased risk of dry eye. Supplementing with these vitamins and minerals can support a healthy tear film and ocular surface.
Vitamin A is essential for the proper functioning of the eyes. This important vitamin helps maintain the cornea, conjunctiva, and tear glands. Vitamin A deficiency is associated with dry eye due to impaired mucin production and secretion.
Mucins are glycoproteins found in tears that help prevent them from evaporating too quickly. Low levels of vitamin A reduce goblet cell density and alter mucin expression, causing tear film instability.
The recommended daily intake of vitamin A for adults is 900 mcg RAE (retinol activity equivalent) for men and 700 mcg RAE for women. Food sources high in preformed vitamin A include liver, fish, milk, and eggs. Beta-carotene found in plant foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach can also be converted into active vitamin A in the body.
In one study of over 32,000 women, those with the highest intake of vitamin A from food and supplements had a significantly lower risk of dry eye syndrome. For people with significant vitamin A deficiency, taking a supplement with up to 5000 IU daily under medical supervision may help improve dry eye symptoms. But don’t exceed the upper limit of 3000 mcg RAE per day.
Vitamin C is arguably the most important antioxidant for ocular health. This versatile nutrient fights oxidative stress supports the immune system, aids collagen synthesis, and promotes wound healing.
Oxidative damage is thought to play a major role in the development of dry eye disease. Reactive oxygen species degrade tear film lipids, proteins, and mucins. Vitamin C protects delicate eye tissues from free radical damage through its antioxidant properties.
Vitamin C also enhances immunity in the eyes to fight infection and inflammation. It assists in collagen formation to maintain the structure of the cornea. This vitamin aids wound repair on the ocular surface.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 75-90 mg per day for adults. Citrus fruits, red peppers, kiwi, and strawberries are excellent sources. Supplementing with at least 200 mg of vitamin C daily can provide added antioxidant protection for dry, irritated eyes.
Like vitamin C, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that combats oxidative stress associated with dry eyes. It protects the lipid layer of tears from peroxidation and safeguards ocular surface cells from free radical damage.
This fat-soluble nutrient also seems to suppress certain inflammatory cytokines involved in dry eye. Vitamin E may help treat Meibomian gland dysfunction – a leading cause of evaporative dry eye.
Almonds, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, and spinach provide vitamin E in the diet. The recommended intake for adults is 15 mg (22 IU) of natural vitamin E daily. For dry eye relief, aiming for at least 100 IU daily from supplements is suggested.
Emerging research shows vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in people with dry eye disease. This makes sense given vitamin D’s critical role in immune regulation. Low levels can trigger excessive inflammation, worsening dryness and irritation.
By modulating the immune response, vitamin D helps control inflammation on the ocular surface. It may also increase tear production in cases of tear deficiency and dry eye.
Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are natural sources of vitamin D. But it can be challenging to get enough from food alone. Many experts recommend 1000-4000 IU of supplemental vitamin D3 per day for adequate levels.
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fats like EPA and DHA found in fish oil are among the best natural anti-inflammatories for dry eyes. They help reduce inflammatory cytokines, promote tear secretion, and improve Meibomian gland function.
Essential fatty acids play a structural role in tear film phospholipids too. Supplementing with omega-3s increases phospholipid content in tears to prevent rapid evaporation.
For moderate to severe dry eyes, anywhere from 500 to 3000 mg of combined EPA and DHA from fish oil daily is ideal. Flaxseeds, walnuts, and fatty fish provide plant and animal sources of omega-3s. However, supplements usually supply higher therapeutic amounts.
Zinc is a trace mineral critical for overall ocular health and vision. It assists antioxidant enzymes, prevents oxidative damage, and supports the immune response. Zinc also promotes wound healing on the corneal surface.
Observational studies link zinc deficiency to increased risk for dry eye syndrome. Supplementing with zinc significantly improves tear film stability and reduces inflammation in those with low zinc levels.
Oysters provide the most zinc from dietary sources. Beans, nuts, seeds, poultry, and red meat also supply this mineral. The recommended daily intake of zinc for adults is 8-11 mg. An additional 25-45 mg from supplements benefits those with dry eyes.
Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA)
Gamma linolenic acid or GLA is an anti-inflammatory omega-6 fat found in evening primrose, borage, and black currant seed oils. Converting to dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid in the body, GLA inhibits inflammatory cytokines involved in dry eye.
In clinical studies, 1500 mg daily of evening primrose oil rich in GLA significantly improved dry eye symptoms and tear production. The anti-inflammatory effects help reduce ocular surface damage and discomfort.
Magnesium is needed for over 300 essential biochemical reactions in the body and eyes. Unfortunately, many people don’t get enough from diet alone.
Studies show magnesium deficiency is more common in those with moderate to severe dry eye disease. Supplementing helps reduce oxidative stress and systemic inflammation associated with dryness.
Green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds are dietary sources of magnesium. For dry eyes, a supplemental dose of 200-400 mg daily in citrate, glycinate, or aspartate form is ideal.
Digestive enzymes with lipase break down fats into essential fatty acids that lubricate the eyes. Our bodies naturally make enzymes that digest and assimilate nutrients. But production tends to decline with age.
Supplementing with a high-quality enzyme complex containing proteases, lipase, and amylase can improve the absorption of vitamins, minerals, and omegas. This also ensures adequate EFAs are available to incorporate into tear film phospholipids.
Look for comprehensive enzyme supplements with 10,000-20,000 HUT of protease, 150-300 FCCLU of lipase, and 6000-12,000 SKB of amylase. Take with meals for better dry eye relief.
Best Antioxidants for Dry Eyes
Antioxidants are vital for combating oxidative damage involved in dry eye. Tear film instability and inflammation produce reactive oxygen species that damage ocular surface cells. Fortunately, antioxidants can counteract these free radicals and support ocular health.
Some of the top antioxidants for dry eyes include:
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin accumulate in the retina and protect the eyes from damaging blue light and oxidative stress. Higher intake is linked to a lower risk for dry eye syndrome.
Most lutein supplements provide 10-20 mg of lutein combined with 2-4 mg of zeaxanthin taken once or twice daily. Eating more carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables also boosts levels.
Bilberry is rich in antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins. These flavonoids fight inflammation, stabilize tear film, and protect corneal cells in dry eye disease.
For supplemental use, 160-320 mg daily of bilberry extract standardized for 25% anthocyanins is ideal. Dried bilberries can also be consumed but offer lower anthocyanin levels.
Pycnogenol, a patented extract of French maritime pine bark, reduces oxidative damage and inflammation involved in dry eye. It improves tear production and protects delicate eye tissues.
Studies show the benefits of using 50-150 mg daily of pycnogenol supplements. Sourcing high-quality brands is important to get optimal results.
Found in red wine and grapes, resveratrol is a polyphenol antioxidant with amazing anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. It protects the lipid layer in tears and may benefit those with evaporative dry eyes.
Most resveratrol supplements provide 20-100 mg taken once or twice per day. Bear in mind that red wine contains very low levels of resveratrol compared to concentrated extracts.
Curcumin is the main bioactive compound in turmeric known for its potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. It blocks inflammatory pathways in dry eye disease and reduces ocular surface damage.
Look for curcumin supplements standardized for 95% curcuminoids at a dosage of 400-600 mg twice daily. Pairing curcumin with black pepper enhances absorption.
This flavonoid antioxidant combats oxidative stress, inflammation, and allergy symptoms associated with dry eyes. It stabilizes mast cells, blocks histamine release, and decreases inflammatory markers.
Typical quercetin supplements provide 250-500 mg taken once or twice per day. Onions, apples, berries, broccoli, and leafy greens supply dietary quercetin.
Pomegranate flower extract is rich in ellagic acid, punicalagin, and other polyphenols that reduce inflammation in dry eye disease. It may also help treat Meibomian gland dysfunction.
Supplements typically provide 150-225 mg of pomegranate extract daily. Drinking pomegranate juice and eating the arils also boosts the intake of antioxidants.
Herbal Remedies for Dry Eyes
Certain herbal medicines have shown effectiveness in relieving dry eye discomfort through their anti-inflammatory, mucus-enhancing, and tear-promoting properties. Here are some of the top herbal remedies for dry eyes:
Gingko leaf extract contains antioxidant compounds called ginkgolides and bilobalides. These active ingredients increase tear film secretion and stabilize tear turnover in those with dry eyes.
Studies demonstrating benefits for dry eye disease use 40 mg of gingko extract three times daily. Look for high-quality standardized extracts with 24% ginkgo flavonoids.
Eyebright herb has traditionally been used for eye inflammation and tear deficiency. The active compounds seem to increase tear film production and protect epithelial cells on the eye surface.
For dry eye relief, eyewash solutions and eye drops containing eyebright extract can be applied to the eyes several times per day. Eyebright tea can also be consumed.
Fennel has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that help relieve dry eyes. It also contains estrogen-like compounds that may stimulate mucus secretion in dry eye disease.
Try sipping on fennel tea or taking capsules with 500-1000 mg of fennel powder one to three times daily. Use dried fennel seeds to make tea or extract powder.
The catechin antioxidants in green tea such as EGCG help protect the ocular surface and tear film from damage related to dry eye syndrome. Both consuming green tea and applying it topically can be beneficial.
Drink 2-3 cups of organic green tea per day for the antioxidant benefits. You can also steep green tea bags and use the cooled liquid as a soothing topical eye compress. Matcha green tea powder is extra potent.
Marshmallow root is a demulcent herb that naturally forms mucilage when combined with water. This makes it ideal for coating and lubricating mucous membranes like those in dry eyes.
Add marshmallow root powder to tea or water to create a soothing drink. For topical use, steep to make an eye wash or use pre-made marshmallow eye drops as needed for relief.
In traditional Chinese medicine, chrysanthemum tea alleviates dry eye discomfort and inflammation. It contains antioxidant flavonoids that protect the cornea and lens from free radical damage.
Drink a few cups of chrysanthemum tea throughout the day for dry eye relief. Boil the dried flowers in water for five minutes to prepare freshly brewed tea. Bottled chrysanthemum tea is also widely available.
Stinging nettle herb has natural anti-allergy, antihistamine, and anti-inflammatory actions that can benefit dry, itchy eyes. It may also reduce ocular surface inflammation when applied topically.
For internal use, sip on nettle leaf tea several times daily or take 300-400 mg capsules. Frozen nettle leaf can also be applied topically as a cold compress.
Home Remedies for Dry Eyes
Implementing some simple home remedies alongside nutritional supplements can provide additional dry eye relief. Here are some easy home remedies worth trying:
- Use a cool compress like chilled cucumber slices or cold tea bags on closed eyes
- Apply warm, wet compresses to eyelids to melt Meibomian gland secretions
- Blink more frequently when using digital devices to spread tear film
- Take frequent breaks when staring at screens to reduce tear evaporation
- Use a humidifier to add moisture to dry indoor air
- Adjust computer screen height for proper ergonomics and less strain
- Limit time in air-conditioned rooms which promote tear evaporation
- Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake which can exacerbate dryness
- Drink more water to stay hydrated and support healthy tears
- Consider using ocular lubricants like preservative-free drops or gels
- Avoid rubbing eyes which can damage the cornea and tear film
Lifestyle Tips for Managing Dry Eyes
Making smart lifestyle changes is equally important when dealing with dry eyes. Here are some healthy habits to reduce symptoms and support ocular health:
Follow a Nutrient-Dense Diet
Eat plenty of anti-inflammatory foods high in omega-3s, antioxidants, and key vitamins and minerals. Focus on healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts/seeds, and whole grains. Stay hydrated by drinking water and herbal tea.
Smoking impairs tear gland function, accelerates tear evaporation, and increases the risk of dry eye syndrome. Quitting improves ocular surface health.
Manage Chronic Health Conditions
Work with your doctor to properly manage any medical conditions linked to dry eyes like autoimmune disorders, thyroid disease, and vitamin deficiencies. Controlling systemic inflammation is key.
Protect Eyes Outdoors
Wear sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats outdoors. Use preservative-free artificial tears frequently when in sunny, windy weather conditions.
Reduce Screen Time and Take Frequent Breaks
Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look 20 feet away. This reduces eye strain. Don’t overdo digital devices, TVs, smartphones, or computers.
Use Proper Ocular Hygiene
Never share contact solutions or cosmetics that touch the eyes. Replace eye makeup every three months. Disinfect contact lenses properly and replace them as recommended. Practice safe contact lens wear and care.
Choose Preservative-Free Eye Drops
Preservatives in many eye drops can cause toxicity, and irritation and exacerbate dryness over time. Use preservative-free lubricating and rewetting drops whenever possible.
Invest in a Humidifier
Run a humidifier, especially in winter and air-conditioned environments to prevent excessive tear evaporation. Aim to keep indoor humidity around 40-50%.
Manage Meibomian Gland Dysfunction
Use warm compresses on eyelids to melt oils. Consider in-office procedures like LipiFlow to remove blockages from glands. This improves tear film and reduces evaporation.
Visit Your Eye Doctor Regularly
Get a comprehensive eye exam each year. Report any irritation, discomfort, or changes in vision immediately. Proper prescription glasses can also help minimize eye strain.
Conventional Dry Eye Treatments
In moderate to advanced cases of dry eye disease, nutritional supplements should be combined with certain pharmaceutical treatments under a doctor’s care.
Some medication options for managing dry eyes include:
- Artificial tears– Over-the-counter lubricating eye drops provide temporary relief by hydrating the ocular surface. Preservative-free formulas are ideal for frequent use.
- Prescription anti-inflammatory drops– Medications like cyclosporine (Restasis) and lifitegrast (Xiidra) help reduce inflammation to improve dry eyes.
- Antibiotic eye drops– Antibiotics may be prescribed for bacterial eye infections resulting from severe dryness.
- Corticosteroid eye drops– Steroids rapidly reduce ocular surface inflammation but cannot be used long-term due to side effects.
- Secretagogues– Prescriptions like cevimeline (Evoxac) and pilocarpine stimulate tear production from glands.
- Serum tears– Special eye drops like autologous serum tears made from your blood components can promote healing.
- Punctal plugs– These tiny devices placed in tear ducts prevent rapid drainage of tears from the eyes.
- Moisture chamber goggles– Wearing sealed goggles creates humidity around the eyes to prevent tear evaporation.
- Prescription fish oil– Ultra-pure EPA/DHA fish oil concentrated up to 1000x may be given to severe dry eye patients.
For mild cases, using preservative-free lubricating drops as needed combined with nutritional supplements is often sufficient. More advanced interventions may be incorporated for moderate to severe dry eyes under an ophthalmologist’s oversight.
Best Supplements for Dry Eyes
There are now specialty eye vitamins formulated with the specific nutrients, antioxidants, and omegas clinically shown to improve dry eyes. These condition-specific formulations take the guesswork out of choosing individual supplements.
Here are some of the top-rated ophthalmologist-formulated eye vitamins for dry eyes:
- OcuGuard® Plus– Contains omega-3s, gamma-linolenic acid, antioxidants, vitamins and zinc
- ICaps® Omega-3 EC– Ultra-high potency EPA/DHA fish oil at 915 mg
- HydroEye®– Multinutrient with antioxidants, omega-3s, vitamins, minerals and botanicals
- MacuHealth® with LMZ3– Lutein, zeaxanthin and omega-3 formula for dry eye
- FreshKote® PF– Preservative-free lubricant eye drops with hydrating hyaluronate
Look for products from reputable supplement brands endorsed by eye doctors. Follow dosing recommendations based on dry eye severity. And give supplements at least 3-6 months for best results.
Lifestyle and Diet Changes That Can Help Dry Eyes
- Increase intake of omega-3 foods like salmon, walnuts, flaxseeds and grass-fed beef
- Eat more antioxidant and vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables
- Drink green tea and include spices like turmeric that fight inflammation
- Limit alcohol, caffeine, excess salt, and processed foods
- Stay well-hydrated by drinking more water throughout the day
- Use a humidifier to add moisture to dry indoor air
- Take frequent breaks when using digital screens and phones
- Wear sunglasses outside and hats with brims for sun protection
- Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke exposure
- Practice proper contact lens hygiene if you wear contacts
- Use preservative-free lubricating eye drops and gels as needed
Dry Eye Supplements Q&A
Q: How long until I notice relief from taking dry eye supplements?
A: Most people see some improvement in symptoms within 4-6 weeks of daily supplementation. But allow at least 3 months for supplements to take full effect and improve ocular surface health. For severe dry eye, it can take up to 6 months.
Q: When is the best time to take supplements for dry eyes?
A: For optimal absorption, take supplements with food. Omega-3 fish oils tend to be best absorbed with a meal containing healthy fats. Multivitamin eye formulas can be taken once or split into twice daily dosing.
Q: Are there any negative side effects from dry eye supplements?
A: When taken as directed, most eye vitamins and omegas have minimal side effects. Omega-3s can cause temporary GI issues. High vitamin A intake can lead to liver toxicity. Discuss any medications with your doctor regarding interactions.
Q: Do I need to take supplements if I use prescription dry eye drops?
A: Yes, prescription medications like Restasis and Xiidra primarily suppress inflammation. However, supplements improve overall ocular surface health by addressing nutritional deficiencies and causes. For best results, incorporate both.
Q: Can I use over-the-counter eye drops with supplements?
A: Yes, artificial tears and lubricating gels can be safely used along with oral supplements. Use preservative-free drops frequently as needed for dryness. But allow at least 15 minutes between using drops and taking supplements for proper absorption.
Q: Are dry eye supplements recommended after LASIK surgery?
A: Absolutely. LASIK disrupts corneal nerves involved in tear production. Taking a supplement with omega-3s, antioxidants, and vitamins can help stimulate tears, reduce inflammation, and promote healing after LASIK.
Q: How do I choose the best dry eye supplement brand?
A: Look for products formulated by optometrists or ophthalmologists with nutrients, vitamins, and omegas shown clinically to relieve dryness. Choose reputable brands with high-quality ingredients. Read reviews and avoid vague “miracle cure” claims.
Nutritional deficiencies play a major yet often overlooked role in the development and progression of dry eye syndrome. Supporting ocular surface health through diet and evidence-based supplements gives eyes the nutrients they need for optimal tear production and function.
Key ingredients like omega-3s EPA/DHA, antioxidants, essential vitamins/minerals, digestive enzymes, and herbal remedies work synergistically to treat the root causes of dryness. They lubricate eyes, reduce inflammation, protect delicate tissues, and encourage healing.
For those fed up with irritating artificial tears that only provide temporary relief, supplements that treat the source of dry eyes offer hope. Of course, addressing any underlying health issues, modifying environmental factors, and using ophthalmic treatments as needed are also important.
By implementing some of the supplement tips and healthy lifestyle habits outlined here, most dry eye sufferers see significant improvement. Combining prescription medications, home remedies and the best eye vitamins finally provides complete, long-lasting dry eye relief.
Faizan Ahmad is a passionate medical writer and health enthusiast. He joined Quick Medico in 2023 as a place to provide reliable information and resources about health, diseases, and wellness topics.
Now as the editor-in-chief of Quick Medico, Faizan leads a team of experienced medical writers and health professionals. His goal is to make complex health topics easy to understand and provide readers with practical information to improve their health and well-being.
Outside of work, Faizan enjoys being in nature, reading non-fiction books, and spending time with friends and family. He brings his natural curiosity and passion for lifelong learning to every article he writes or edits for Quick Medico. Faizan lives in Islamabad, Pakistan, and looks forward to continuing to grow Quick Medico into a leading health information site that empowers readers to take control of their health.