Dry eye syndrome is a common eye condition affecting about 4 million people age 50 and older in the United States. For many, dry eye syndrome is simply uncomfortable and annoying, but for others it escalates into a vision-threatening disease. Dry eye syndrome involves malfunction of the rate of tear production, the quality of tears, and/or the rate of evaporate from the surface of the eye. Anyone can experience dry eye, though it is more common among women. Symptoms can include gritty, scratchy or burning sensations, excessive tearing, and/or production of stringy mucus.
In a study published in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, researchers at the University of Tokyo’s School of Medicine have shown for the first time that caffeine intake can significantly increase the eye’s ability to produce tears, a finding that could improve treatment of dry eye syndrome.
The Japanese research team was motivated by an earlier study that had shown a reduced risk for dry eye in caffeine users: 13 percent of users had the syndrome compared with nearly 17 percent of non-users. The team hypothesized that caffeine was likely to stimulate tear glands, since it is known to increase other secretions, such as saliva and digestive juices.
In the Japanese study, the volunteers were divided into two groups: one received caffeine tablets in the first session and a placebo in the second session, while the order was reversed for the other group. Tear volume was measured within 45 minutes of consuming the tablets. No subjects knew whether they received caffeine or the placebo. All abstained from caffeine use for six days prior to each session and used no drugs during the sessions. All of the 78 participants in the study produced significantly more tears after consuming caffeine than after taking a placebo.
The researchers analyzed study participants’ DNA samples for two genetic variations that play important roles in caffeine metabolism. Tear production proved to be higher in study subjects who had the two genetic variations. Based on the study, the researchers advised that caffeine might be a useful treatment for dry eye symptom in patients who are most sensitive to caffeine’s stimulating effects.
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Journal Reference: Reiko Arita, Yasuo Yanagi, Norihiko Honda, Shuji Maeda, Koshi Maeda, Aya Kuchiba, Takuhiro Yamaguchi, Yoshitsugu Yanagihara, Hiroshi Suzuki, Shiro Amano. Caffeine Increases Tear Volume Depending on Polymorphisms within the Adenosine A2a Receptor Gene and Cytochrome P450 1A2. Ophthalmology, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2011.11.033
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