Omega 3 and Dry Eyes: Does ir Help? Is it worth the cost?

Two recent studies came out noting the lack of proof Omega 3 supplements help with Dry Eye (paper 1) and  cardiovascular disease (paper 2). 
Paper 1
REFERENCE: The Dry Eye Assessment and Management Study Research Group. 2018. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for treatment of dry eye disease. N Engl J Med. Published online April 13.

The NIH comments about this study are noted below.** 

The summary of both papers with regards to the effectiveness are the following. 
1. Both papers noted Omega 3 is an “add on medicine” which is for patients already being treated with other meds for their condition. 
Thus, it is going to be hard to prove Omega 3 adds any extra benefit in small studies (less than 1000-+ patients). 
2. The control group in the Dry Eye Study may need to be changed to no oil: though olive oil supplements should not help dry patients, a non-oil supplement could be tried next time. 
3. The Dry Eye study was a relatively small study. 
4. A study where no other medications were used (almost impossible to do) might bring out the benefit of Omega 3. 
5. It is, of course,  possible that Omega 3 does not do anything for dry eye and CV disease. 
These studies are expensive and take time. Still it is hard to find a non-sponsored study that shows Omega 3 helps with Dry Eye, CV disease, and other diseases.
6. Surgeons will still likely recommend wild, salmon & other natural ways of obtaining Omega 3, but the evidence is lacking. 

Sent: Fri, Apr 13, 2018 3:38 pm

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
National Eye Institute (NEI) <>
For Immediate Release: Friday, April 13, 2018

CONTACT: National Eye Institute, 301-496-5248, <>

NIH-funded study finds omega-3 fails to yield beneficial results in the clinic

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements taken orally proved no better than placebo at relieving symptoms or signs of dry eye, according to the findings of a well-controlled trial funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health. Dry eye disease occurs when the film that coats the eye no longer maintains a healthy ocular surface, which can lead to discomfort and visual impairment. The condition affects an estimated 14 percent of adults in the United States. The paper was published online April 13 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Annual sales of fish- and animal-derived supplements amount to more than a $1-billion market in the United States, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. Many formulations are sold over-the-counter, while others require a prescription or are available for purchase from a health care provider.

“The trial provides the most reliable and generalizable evidence thus far on omega-3 supplementation for dry eye disease,” said Maryann Redford, D.D.S., M.P.H., program officer for clinical research at NEI. Despite insufficient evidence establishing the effectiveness of omega-3s, clinicians and their patients have been inclined to try the supplements for a variety of conditions with inflammatory components, including dry eye. “This well-controlled investigation conducted by the independently-led Dry Eye Assessment and Management (DREAM) Research Group shows that omega-3 supplements are no better than placebo for typical patients who suffer from dry eye.”

The 27-center trial enrolled 535 participants with at least a six-month history of moderate to severe dry eye. Among them, 349 people were randomly assigned to receive 3 grams daily of fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids in five capsules. Each daily dose contained 2000 mg eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 1000 mg docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This dose of omega-3 is the highest ever tested for treating dry eye disease. The 186 people randomly assigned to the placebo group received 5 grams daily of olive oil (about 1 teaspoon) in identical capsules. Study participants and the researchers did not know their group assignment.

Blood tests at 12 months confirmed that 85 percent of people in the omega-3 group were still compliant with the therapy. In the omega-3 group, mean EPA levels quadrupled versus no change in the placebo group. Mean levels of oleic acid, the constituent of olive oil, remained stable in both treatment groups.

Importantly, unlike in most industry-sponsored trials, all participants were free to continue taking their previous medications for dry eye, such as artificial tears and prescription anti-inflammatory eye drops.
“Omega-3s are generally used as an add-on therapy. The study results are in the context of this real-world experience of treating symptomatic dry eye patients who request additional treatment,” said study chair for the trial, Penny A. Asbell, M.D., of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Patient-reported symptoms were measured as change from baseline in the Ocular Surface Disease Index, a 100-point scale for assessing dry eye symptoms, with higher values representing greater severity. After 12 months, mean symptoms scores for people in both groups had improved substantially, but there was no significant difference in the degree of symptom improvement between the groups. Symptom scores improved by a mean of 13.9 points in the omega-3 group and 12.5 points in the placebo group. A reduction of at least 10 points on the index is considered significant enough for a person to notice improvement. Overall, 61 percent of people in the omega-3 group and 54 percent of those in the control group achieved at least a 10-point improvement in their symptom score, but the difference between the groups was not statistically significant.

Likewise, there were no significant differences between the groups in terms of improvement in signs of dry eye. Signs of dry eye were evaluated by the clinician using standardized tests that measure the amount and quality of tears and the integrity of the cornea and the conjunctiva, the surface tissue that covers the front of the eye.

“The findings also emphasize the difficulty in judging whether a treatment really helps a particular dry eye patient,” said the leader of the coordinating center for the study, Maureen G. Maguire, Ph.D., of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. “More than half the people taking placebo reported substantial symptom improvement during the year-long study.”

“The results of the DREAM study do not support use of omega-3 supplements for patients with moderate to severe dry eye disease,” Dr. Asbell concluded.

The study was funded by NEI grants U10EY022879 and U10EY022881.

Paper 2:

Medical News & Perspectives
April 18, 2018

Another Nail in the Coffin for Fish Oil Supplements

JAMA. Published online April 18, 2018. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.2498

More people than ever take fish oil dietary supplements—around 8% of US adults in 2012 compared with around 5% five years earlier, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But a recent meta-analysis of 10 large clinical trials came to a disappointing conclusion: The popular capsules do little to protect patients with heart disease. The findings are at odds with advice from the American Heart Association (AHA), including a 2017 science advisory recommendation to consider fish oil supplementation for patients with a recent myocardial infarction, or heart attack.

Image description not available.

The new meta-analysis, published in JAMA Cardiology in January, looked at randomized trials of marine-derived omega-3 fatty acid supplements involving almost 78 000 participants with a history of coronary heart disease (66%), stroke (28%), or diabetes (37%). The trials lasted an average of 4.4 years and compared fish oil with placebo or no treatment in at least 500 participants.

All told, fish oil supplements did not reduce the risk of coronary heart disease deaths, nonfatal heart attacks, fatal or nonfatal strokes, revascularization procedures, or all-cause mortality among the full study population. The supplements also didn’t protect against major vascular events in any subgroups, including people with a history of heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, or statin use.

Parsing the effects of fish oil supplementation in prespecified disease subtypes and participant subgroups is something that wasn’t previously possible with the published data sets, said Robert Clarke, MD, a professor of epidemiology and public health medicine at the University of Oxford who led the review. Clarke’s coauthors included principal investigators from 9 out of 10 of the included trials, who provided unpublished data necessary for the meta-analysis.

“They looked every way they could to find out if there was a signal and nothing panned out,” said Lawrence J. Appel, MD, a coauthor of last year’s AHA advisory, who was not involved with the analysis.

The findings are just the latest to cast doubt on the usefulness of fish oil supplementation for major cardiovascular disease end points. Although early trials showed a substantial mortality benefit, the supplements haven’t lived up to their promise in later studies.

Two 2012 reviews of randomized trials published in JAMA and the Archives of Internal Medicine (now JAMA Internal Medicine) by separate research teams found little benefit of fish oil supplementation for heart health. A 2016 systematic review from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality essentially reached the same conclusion.

The authors of the new analysis concluded that it “doesn’t provide any support for the current recommendation from the American Heart Association to use omega-3 fatty acids for the prevention of fatal coronary heart disease or any coronary heart disease in people with prior vascular disease,” Clarke told JAMA.

Disappointing Landscape

Despite having coauthored the conflicting AHA advisory, Appel, who is director of the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health, said he was “not at all surprised” by the results. “After a few high-profile trials done over a decade ago, … it’s really been a pretty disappointing landscape for fish oil, which [was] sort of like the supplement du jour,” he said.

The aggressive way heart disease is treated today—with statins, β-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, and aspirin, along with procedures to restore blood flow—may largely explain why the benefit of fish oil supplements appears to have dwindled over time. Trials for the most part have tested secondary prevention, which means they included participants who were already receiving treatment.

“Once you get a heavily medicated group, it’s really hard to detect further benefit,” Appel said.

Improved diets—including greater fish consumption—may have also reduced the magnitude of effect over time. The omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in cold-water fish are believed to be the main drivers of cardioprotection in seafood and are the primary components in fish oil capsules.

“Most observational studies have found that adding omega-3 supplements on top of a diet with 1 to 2 servings of fish a week will have no benefit,” said Eric Rimm, ScD, director of cardiovascular epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

A Reasonable Treatment

The AHA advisory concluded that it was reasonable for physicians to consider prescribing fish oil to patients with a recent coronary heart disease event like a recent heart attack or with prevalent heart failure with reduced left ventricular function.

David Siscovick, MD, senior vice president for research at the New York Academy of Medicine and a professor emeritus of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Washington, chaired the advisory. Like his coauthor Appel, Siscovick wasn’t surprised by the results of the recent meta-analysis. But he said different research methods could explain the divergent conclusions in the analysis and the AHA advisory.

In addition to randomized trials, the advisory committee also considered meta-analyses and looked at outcomes for specific indications in individual studies rather than pooling the data. The 2 groups also defined cardiovascular mortality differently, Siscovick said. The meta-analysis included deaths related to revascularizations, for example, while the AHA advisory did not.

The AHA advisory committee estimated a reduction of around 10% in cardiovascular mortality among patients who experienced a recent heart attack and a 9% reduction in all-cause mortality among patients with heart failure.

“Given a potential modest effect [on] mortality, which is an important patient outcome, and little evidence of risk from the treatment with omega-3 supplements, we concluded that it was reasonable for physicians to consider treating in these two clinical indications,” Siscovick said.

He pointed out that the advisory and the meta-analysis are otherwise essentially in agreement. For example, both concluded that for patients at high risk of heart disease who haven’t developed it yet, the evidence from trials doesn’t suggest a benefit of fish oil treatment.

Siscovick’s bottom line: “Would I rewrite our advisory? The answer is no.”

More Data on the Way

Researchers are watching for the results of 4 large randomized trials of fish oil supplements currently under way that together will include more than 60 000 people.

An open question is whether healthy people should take fish oil for primary prevention of heart disease. The highly anticipated Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL), which involves almost 26 000 participants, is the first to test whether fish oil supplements reduce the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and cancer in the general population. Another trial, A Study of Cardiovascular Events in Diabetes (ASCEND), will test if fish oil prevents serious vascular events in patients with diabetes who do not have arterial disease.

Clarke, however, doesn’t expect a different outcome in these trials because the omega-3 dosages are roughly the same as the average dose in his meta-analysis: around 1 g per day.

The 2 other trials—Reduction of Cardiovascular Events with EPA–Intervention Trial (REDUCE-IT) and Statin Residual Risk Reduction with EpaNova in High Cardiovascular Risk Patients with Hypertriglyceridemia (STRENGTH)—will test around 4 g of fish oil per day in patients at high risk of cardiovascular disease who have extremely high triglycerides and are already taking statins. This higher dosage is used to reduce hypertriglyceridemia but until now hasn’t been tested for end points such as heart attack, stroke, or mortality.

“Those results will be interesting,” Clarke said. In the meantime, patients with heart disease should focus on monitoring their blood pressure and blood lipids and making lifestyle and dietary changes, including eating 2 to 3 servings of seafood a week, he emphasized.

Most people in the United States, however, don’t eat that much fish. Although seafood consumption is on the rise, it still only makes up 5% of the protein in the US diet, far less than the 20% recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Those who don’t eat fish may be more likely to see a benefit from the supplements, Rimm said.
Comments by patient on Paper 1:
A wonderful patient sent me the original link to the the paper 1 article. Here are her comments which are very good. 
It’s interesting, huh?  And disappointing!  Raises a lot of questions, I think, even though it answers some — especially since there is anecdotal evidence to the contrary.  Makes me wonder if it’s a case of not testing with the right dose even though they say this was the highest dose used in a study like this (3 grams).  And, too, since they used olive oil for the placebo, maybe just ingesting a lot of any oil can help improve dry eye?  My personal opinion is that the only answers we have to dry eye help right now lies in trying combinations of things and it’s hard to separate any one thing out that is working or not working in and of itself.  (Just my thoughts.)  Anyway, there you have it!  🙂

Thanks for all you do to help dry-eye sufferers. It is obvious you really care.

Shopping Cart