Meibomian Gland Dysfunction Diet - 9 Foods To Eat & 5 Foods To AVOID
For those with meibomian gland dysfunction, discovering treatments that work is the most important step in decreasing inflammation, preventing meibomian gland atrophy, and feeling better overall. MGD is a progressive, obstructive disease of the glands in the eyelids, which advances from the production of normal, healthy oil into stagnant, hardened oil that can lead to gland atrophy. Typical treatments for this condition are very important, but it’s also critical that you understand why alternative treatments may be beneficial as well.
What is MGD (Meibomian Gland Dysfunction)?
MGD is an abnormality of the meibomian glands, the tiny oil glands that reside in your eyelids. Why are these important? Our tears are composed of three layers; a mucus or mucin layer, an aqueous or watery layer, and an oily layer. The meibomian glands are responsible for producing the oil for that oily layer, and this layer of the tear film is so critical because it lubricates the eyes and prevents evaporation of the rest of the tear film. In turn, this keeps you comfortable and ensures that your vision is clear and stable.
Without meibomian glands that work properly, you may experience any of the following symptoms:
Irritated, dry eyes
Redness of the eyes and eyelid margins
Intermittent blurred vision or fluctuating vision
The feeling that something is in your eyes
Styes or chalazia
While there are many other symptoms you may experience, these are the most common. Often, the oil within the glands becomes hardened and eventually stagnant. This means that your eyes will not be lubricated by free-flowing oil, and it also means that the oil your glands are producing is not optimal. Optimal meibum (the oil produced from these glands) is the consistency of olive oil, while many people are experiencing meibum with the consistency of toothpaste. This isn’t good!
If you can first ensure that your body is producing a high quality oil, you can then make sure that oil is flowing properly. In a bit, we’ll cover a few of the ways you can help your body produce better oil as well as ways you can avoid stagnation and atrophy of these precious glands.
What Causes MGD?
According to the TFOS DEWS II report, meibomian gland dysfunction is the main cause for evaporative dry eye disease. They give many reasons why this condition occurs. First of all, there are age-related changes that occur naturally in the meibomian glands. Research has shown that there is a loss in viable cells within the meibomian glands due to aging, and hormones play a role as well. More specifically, a deficiency in androgens that occurs with aging can put a person at more risk of meibomian gland issues.
There are other conditions that greatly contribute to this disease as well. Rosacea is known to be a risk factor, and we know that demodex eyelash mites also contribute. Some systemic medications, such as isotretinoin for acne, can greatly increase MGD risk. And although MGD is also known as posterior blepharitis, anterior blepharitis, which is caused from bacterial overgrowth on the front of the eyelid will also cause meibomian gland dysfunction.
Typical Meibomian Gland Dysfunction Treatment
When you visit your eye doctor, you’re likely going to hear about the following treatments first, which are the first line of treatment for MGD.
When you have stagnant oil in your meibomian glands, it’s likely that the oil is of unhealthy quality and hardened. To get your oils moving again, use warm compresses for maintenance. Think of it like this: butter is hardened until you melt it, after which it becomes free-flowing. The oil in the glands of your eyelids is similar, and remember that we want oil the consistency of olive oil.
Simply use your warm compress one or two times daily. Heat up your mask in the microwave for 20 seconds, and then apply it to your closed eyelids for 10-20 minutes. You may have to reheat once to get to a full 20 minutes.
Meibomian Gland Expression
After you’ve heated the oil in your glands, you’ll want to release it onto your eyes. This is a simple process and it should not be painful at all. Using your clean finger or a Qtip, look in the mirror and begin on one side of your eyelid. Gently roll your finger or Qtip down and along the entire eyelid, first working on the upper eyelids and then the lower. For the lower lids, it’s best to close your eyes. Also, if this seems too difficult, you can simply close your eyes gently and massage over the eyelids. Here’s a full video on the procedure.
Removing excess bacteria is so important to the maintenance of healthy eyelids, whether you suffer from blepharitis, MGD, dry eye of any form, or don’t even have symptoms yet. Your eyelids naturally have bacteria on them, but this can become overpopulated and problematic. Staph bacteria is the number one cause of blepharitis, and all of these conditions are intertwined. If bacteria have the chance to build up, they eventually form biofilm which is a substance that’s much harder to penetrate and eliminate.
To effectively cleanse your eyelids, we recommend washing your face with a tea tree face wash followed by the use of hypochlorous acid used twice daily. Simply spray the solution onto your closed eyelids, rub it in with clean fingertips, and let it dry. Alternatively, you can use a cotton ball or round for application.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Although there is some controversy on omega-3s and dry eye disease, we do know that those who take omega-3 supplements or have healthy levels of omega-3 in their blood tend to have less symptoms of dry eye. Adding additional omega-3 into your diet can benefit many things, and your eyes are one of those things. By putting healthy oils into your body (as opposed to unhealthy oils from trans fats and processed food), you’re allowing your body to better produce the healthy oil needed for your tear film.
There are many other treatments your eye doctor may recommend, and the ones mentioned above are simply a place to start.
9 Foods To Add to the Meibomian Gland Dysfunction Diet
The foods listed below are just a few of the many healthy foods you should be consuming for overall eye health and treatment of MGD. We highly recommend purchasing organic as much as possible, because pesticides and fertilizers added to crops can derail what you’re trying to accomplish (more on that later). If you can’t always manage organic, it’s alright, but try to choose organic as much as your grocery store availability and budget will allow.
Leafy Green Vegetables
An alkaline body is a healthy body, and there is no better way to ensure alkalinity than to pack your diet full of green, leafy vegetables. Spinach, kale, chard, arugula, collards, mustard greens, beet greens, and others are packed with vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants needed for healthy eyes. Adding these into your diet is easy - we recommend replacing your breakfast with a green smoothie filled with these healthy veggies. All you need to make a simple green smoothie is a plant-based milk, any of the greens mentioned above (we recommend spinach if you’re new to this), berries, and avocado. Once you’ve started here, you can begin to incorporate other great additions, some of which are mentioned below.
This fruit is full of high quality monounsaturated fat your body needs. Eating avocados daily will benefit your hair, skin, eyes, and heart, among other things, and it’s a great way to add healthy fats into your diet. When you’re full from eating healthy fats, you also won’t have room for the unhealthy fats! Enjoy avocados in guacamole, as a snack sprinkled with sea salt, or throw some into your morning smoothie (which is our preferred method of enjoying it!)
Ground Flaxseed or Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed is such a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, and you already know these are important for your eye health and the health of your meibomian glands. While the omega-3 component of flaxseed, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), must be converted before use in your body, it’s still a great way to up your omega-3 intake. Sprinkle some onto a salad, into soups, or add it to your green smoothie in the morning.
This is quite possibly my favorite vegetable. Broccoli is packed full of antioxidants and is a great alkalizer. It also contains tons of vitamin C and K, folate, potassium, and fiber which can help decrease free radicals in your body and fight inflammation. Broccoli is great by itself or with a plant-based bean dip as a snack, in salads, soups, or roasted in the oven.
This delectable potato variety is full of beta-carotene, a derivative of vitamin A. We know this vitamin is healthy for the eyes and essential for vision. Enjoy sweet potatoes roasted, baked, or even throw them into a smoothie. Avoid sweet potato pie and other dishes that make this powerhouse veggie harmful!
A staple in the mediterranean diet, olive oil contains powerful antioxidants and is full of monounsaturated fats your body needs. In a recent study, the consumption of olive oil was shown to benefit those with dry eye disease, and we know that this oil is not only eye healthy but heart and brain healthy as well. Use olive oil to make your own salad dressings, drizzle it over roasted veggies, or even blend it into your morning coffee (trust me, it’s great!).
Turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory, and this is what makes it so beneficial for those who suffer from inflammatory conditions such as MGD and dry eye. Although no studies have been done on this powerful spice and dry eye, there is abundant evidence of its benefits for the body as a whole. Use it in stir fry, put some into your green smoothie, or make a plant-based turmeric latte. For more recipes and uses of turmeric, see this article.
Lemon and Lime
We love lemon and lime because they’re both low sugar fruits that have alkalizing benefits. They’re also a great source of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. Use lemon or lime in your water in the morning, add some into your green smoothie, use them in homemade salad dressings, or sprinkle a bit over your roasted veggies.
Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries are so high in antioxidants that you can’t leave them out of your diet. In fact, they even help regulate blood sugar and your insulin response! They’re also a great way to have a little sweetness without eating a ton of sugar. Enjoy them in a green smoothie, in salads, or by themselves as a tasty dessert.
5 Foods to AVOID on the Meibomian Gland Dysfunction Diet
The rise of chronic disease including heart conditions, diabetes, and obesity all comes down to one major factor, and that’s the amount of sugar we’re now consuming. At the beginning of the 20th century, sugar consumption averaged between 17-20 pounds per person per year. Recently, that number has skyrocketed to over 120 pounds per person per year. While these numbers are staggering, much of the added sugar in your diet can be avoided.
Refined sugar, which includes high-fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, dextrose, agave, maltose, and others can all cause fluctuations in blood sugar and eventually sugar crashes. This roller coaster can cause mood swings as well as cravings for more sweets, exacerbating a never-ending cycle.
We recommend avoiding sugar whenever possible, which means getting rid of the sugar in your coffee, avoiding sugar sweetened beverages like soda, fruit juice, and electrolyte drinks, avoiding cookies, pies, cakes, white bread, conventional salad dressing, most condiments, and so many other things. I know this can be tough at first, but there are many ways to satisfy that sugar craving naturally. Try a bowl of berries, a green smoothie, or at the very least, switch your sweetener to stevia or erythritol if you need it for coffee or tea.
Conventionally Raised Meat
Conventionally raised meat is a source of extra hormones, bacteria, pollutants, antibiotics and other things that our bodies don’t need. Numerous studies have shown the detrimental effects that meat can have on our bodies, and it comes down to inflammation. The FDA and USDA allow farmers to use antibiotics and hormones in their farming practices, and this can be horrible for us. In addition, 70% of foodborne illness in the US comes from contaminated meat - E.coli, listeria, and campylobacter are all culprits. Most likely, these animals are fed food that’s just not meant to be digested by them (grain vs grass), poop ends up splashing across their living space, and your meat ends up contaminated.
So, what are your options? Fish and eggs aren’t much better because they’re raised in a similar fashion. If you absolutely must have meat, choose organic, free-range, and as wild as possible, such as wild caught fish, pasture raised eggs, and grass fed beef. If you can avoid it or limit it, that’s even better. Consider having a meatless Monday or only enjoying meat on the weekends. After a few weeks, you may notice that you’re feeling better and enjoy life without it! We eat meat about once per month, sometimes more and sometimes less depending on the season, but we try to avoid it because we know how much better we feel when we avoid it altogether.
This one is going to make a lot of people sad, but you need to give up dairy products. This includes milk, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, and other products like it. Similar to meat, dairy products can be filled with antibiotics, hormones, and substances that can increase inflammation in the body. Many people are also sensitive to dairy - it’s one of the top food sensitivities - and this can be problematic for people that have chronic inflammation such as dry eye and MGD.
Dairy is also one of our largest sources of sugar and saturated fat, so it needs to be avoided. There are many non-dairy options out there that are really great. Check out cashew yogurt, almond and cashew milk, and nutritional yeast for making non-dairy cheese sauce.
This category includes all cakes, cookies, pies, most breads and baked goods, french fries, and really anything in a box or can. If it contains many ingredients you can’t pronounce, it’s likely not great for you. Partially hydrogenated oils, such as trans fats, lead to increased inflammation in the body. And this inflammation can lead to MGD and dry eye disease. In addition to this, excitotoxins like MSG (monosodium glutamate), corn protein, gelatin, glutamate, yeast extract, and others are used for flavoring and can lead to and exacerbate issues like asthma, ADD/ADHD, hyperactivity, autism, and diabetes. Do everything you can to avoid frozen meals, chips, crackers, canned soup, conventional sauces and dressings, candy, and soda. Your body will love you for it.
Pesticides and Fertilizers
For all of the above foods we’ve discussed, it’s so important to note that buying organic is a must. Whenever possible, look for this in your grocery store. Always search out and buy organic when it comes to the Dirty Dozen which includes strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, peaches, grapes, celery, pears, cherries, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. Try to avoid these items if they’re not organic, or choose replacements for them.
The Clean Fifteen (produce that is best bought organic, but is also fine conventionally) includes avocado, sweet corn, onions, papayas, sweet peas, eggplant, asparagus, cauliflower, cantaloupe, broccoli, mushrooms, cabbage, honeydew melon, and kiwi. These lists change often, so make sure to check them out before heading to the store,
The use of pesticides and fertilizers can contribute to many things, including cancer, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, headaches, weakness, confusion, chest pains, difficulty breathing, and body aches, among other things.
If you’re unsure where to begin with all of the information we’ve discussed, consider joining the Dry Eye Bootcamp Challenge. We’ll walk you through nine weeks of healthy changes you can make, one simple step at a time, to decrease the inflammation in your body, decrease your symptoms of dry eyes, and help you live a healthier, happier life.