Photo of fenugreek seeds [Image: Rilke -wikimedia Comons]
Fenugreek seeds are a traditional remedy as well as a traditional food

Natural remedy shows benefit for dry eyes

5 March, 2013

Natural Health News – Dry eye syndrome is a common complaint in people as they age and can be difficult to treat.

Now, doctors writing in the Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology say a combination of natural substances may hold the key to easing the condition.

Dry eyes occur when the eyes do not make enough tears, or the tears evaporate too quickly because the oil glands around the eyes, which help to keep eyes lubricated, are blocked or abnormal.  This leads to the eyes drying out and becoming inflamed and irritated.

Both men and women are affected by the condition but is particularly prevalent in women in the peri- and post-menopausal period.

In this recent a study researchers evaluated the effect of a natural supplement (Lacrisek, one capsule daily) containing plant-based phytoestrogen and other nutrients against a placebo in 66 post-menopausal women with dry eye syndrome.

The small 30-day study found that the supplement significantly increased tear production compared with the placebo-treated group. The supplement also significantly decreased tear osmolarity – that is the concentration of small proteins and electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, and chloride  in the tears. A balanced combination of these substances in our tears helps make them more efficient at keeping our eyes moist and protected.

Blood tests also revealed that the women, who all had low levels of sex hormones (17-β estradiol, estrone, and testosterone) at the beginning of the study showed a more normal hormone profile.

Multiple causes

Dry eye syndrome is caused by several factors, which cause inflammation of the eye surface and the lacrimal (tear) glands. This inflammation reduces the normal tear-production capacity of the glands, consequently damaging the corneo-conjunctival surface. If left untreated the damage can become self-perpetuating.

There are many things that make us more vulnerable to dry eyes:

  • the environment, particularly dry heat or a windy climate or long hours in front of a computer
  • disease such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, Sjogren’s syndrome, thyroid disorders
  • medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, HRT, and antidepressants
  • hormonal changes
  • ageing

Based on the blood test result showing better hormonal profiles, the authors of the current study conclude that “Phytoestrogen supplementation can significantly improve the signs and symptoms of dry eye syndrome in postmenopausal women”.

Nevertheless, the supplement itself addressed more than just hormone imbalance. The active ingredients in the capsules contain three substances known to address the causes of dry eye syndrome:

Alpha lipoic acid (100 mg) plays a fundamental role in the energetic metabolism of our cells. It is normally ingested with food and can be found in liver, potatoes, yeast, broccoli and spinach. As an antioxidant, it helps protect the body by fighting the damage caused by the formation of free radicals and by helping generate other important antioxidants already present in our body, such as vitamins E and C and glutathione.

Fish oil (240 mg) Adequate intake of omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) seems to help reduce tissue reaction and to improve lacrimal (tear) function and restore balance. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce the production of inflammation mediators, such as prostaglandins, therefore improving the irritative symptoms of the dry eye syndrome.

Plant-based phytoestrogens (200mg)  In this case from a 50% extract of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-grecum). Rich in phytoestrogens known as furostanol saponins, fenugreek is reputed to aid the body in times of intense changes, such as during menopause or andropause (male menopause) or in particularly stressful or fatiguing periods of our lives. Fenugreek supports lipid production by the meibomian glands (which produce a specialised oil that forms the outer layer of the tear film, preventing evaporation), therefore helping retain the water component of the lacrimal film and improving the symptoms of eye dryness.

There is also evince from animal studies that fenugreek can reduce diabetes-induced cataract formation. It is also known to help improve blood sugar levels and regulate the production of cholesterol. Most recently bread made with added fenugreek flour has been suggested as a therapeutic food in cases of diabetes.

You can also include fenugreek seeds in your diet. They are very versatile and can be eaten as seeds, brewed into a tea, made into a flour and cooked as bread, or pressed into an oil.