Omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids for dry eye disease

Laura E. Downie, Sueko M. Ng, Kristina B. Lindsley, Esen K. Akpek

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) supplements, involving omega-3 and/or omega-6 components, have been proposed as a therapy for dry eye. Omega-3 PUFAs exist in both short- (alpha-linolenic acid [ALA]) and long-chain (eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]) forms, which largely derive from certain plant- and marine-based foods respectively. Omega-6 PUFAs are present in some vegetable oils, meats, and other animal products. Objectives: To assess the effects of omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) supplements on dry eye signs and symptoms. Search methods: CENTRAL, Medline, Embase, two other databases and three trial registries were searched in February 2018, together with reference checking. A top-up search was conducted in October 2019, but the results have not yet been incorporated. Selection criteria: We included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) involving dry eye participants, in which omega-3 and/or omega-6 supplements were compared with a placebo/control supplement, artificial tears, or no treatment. We included head-to-head trials comparing different forms or doses of PUFAs. Data collection and analysis: We followed standard Cochrane methods and assessed the certainty of the evidence using GRADE. Main results: We included 34 RCTs, involving 4314 adult participants from 13 countries with dry eye of variable severity and etiology. Follow-up ranged from one to 12 months. Nine (26.5%) studies had published protocols and/or were registered. Over half of studies had high risk of bias in one or more domains. Long-chain omega-3 (EPA and DHA) versus placebo or no treatment (10 RCTs). We found low certainty evidence that there may be little to no reduction in dry eye symptoms with long-chain omega-3 versus placebo (four studies, 677 participants; mean difference [MD] -2.47, 95% confidence interval [CI] -5.14 to 0.19 units). We found moderate certainty evidence for a probable benefit of long-chain omega-3 supplements in increasing aqueous tear production relative to placebo (six studies, 1704 participants; MD 0.68, 95% CI 0.26 to 1.09 mm/5 min using the Schirmer test), although we did not judge this difference to be clinically meaningful. We found low certainty evidence for a possible reduction in tear osmolarity (one study, 54 participants; MD -17.71, 95% CI -28.07 to -7.35 mOsmol/L). Heterogeneity was too substantial to pool data on tear break-up time (TBUT) and adverse effects. Combined omega-3 and omega-6 versus placebo (four RCTs). For symptoms (low certainty) and ocular surface staining (moderate certainty), data from the four included trials could not be meta-analyzed, and thus effects on these outcomes were unclear. For the Schirmer test, we found moderate certainty evidence that there was no intergroup difference (four studies, 455 participants; MD: 0.66, 95% CI -0.45 to 1.77 mm/5 min). There was moderate certainty for a probable improvement in TBUT with the PUFA intervention relative to placebo (four studies, 455 participants; MD 0.55, 95% CI 0.04 to 1.07 seconds). Effects on tear osmolarity and adverse events were unclear, with data only available from a single small study for each outcome. Omega-3 plus conventional therapy versus conventional therapy alone (two RCTs). For omega-3 plus conventional therapy versus conventional therapy alone, we found low certainty evidence suggesting an intergroup difference in symptoms favoring the omega-3 group (two studies, 70 participants; MD -7.16, 95% CI -13.97 to -0.34 OSDI units). Data could not be combined for all other outcomes. Long-chain omega-3 (EPA and DHA) versus omega-6 (five RCTs). For long-chain omega-3 versus omega-6 supplementation, we found moderate certainty evidence for a probable improvement in dry eye symptoms (two studies, 130 participants; MD -11.88, 95% CI -18.85 to -4.92 OSDI units). Meta-analysis was not possible for outcomes relating to ocular surface staining, Schirmer test or TBUT. We found low certainty evidence for a potential improvement in tear osmolarity (one study, 105 participants; MD -11.10, 95% CI -12.15 to -10.05 mOsmol/L). There was low level certainty regarding any potential effect on gastrointestinal side effects (two studies, 91 participants; RR 2.34, 95% CI 0.35 to 15.54). Authors' conclusions: Overall, the findings in this review suggest a possible role for long-chain omega-3 supplementation in managing dry eye disease, although the evidence is uncertain and inconsistent. A core outcome set would work toward improving the consistency of reporting and the capacity to synthesize evidence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberCD011016
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 18 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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