Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important. They have many powerful health benefits for your body and brain. In fact, few nutrients have been studied as thoroughly as omega-3 fatty acids.
Here are a few health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids that are supported by science.
Omega-3s Can Fight Depression and Anxiety
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the world. Symptoms include sadness, lethargy and a general loss of interest in life. Anxiety, also a common disorder, is characterized by constant worry and nervousness. Interestingly, studies indicate that people who consume omega-3s regularly are less likely to be depressed. What’s more, when people with depression or anxiety start taking omega-3 supplements, studies show their symptoms improve. There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA and DHA. Of the three, EPA appears to be the best at fighting depression. One study even found EPA as effective against depression as a common antidepressant drug
Omega-3s Can Improve Eye Health
DHA, a type of omega-3, is a major structural component of the retina of your eye.When you don’t get enough DHA, vision problems may arise. Interestingly, getting enough omega-3s is linked to a reduced risk of macular degeneration, one of the world’s leading causes of permanent eye damage and blindness.
Omega-3s Can Promote Brain Health During Pregnancy and Early Life
Omega-3s are crucial for brain growth and development in infants. DHA accounts for 40% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids in your brain and 60% in the retina of your eye. Therefore, it’s no surprise that infants fed a DHA-fortified formula have better eyesight than infants fed a formula without it. Getting enough omega-3s during pregnancy is associated with numerous benefits for your child, including:
Better communication and social skills
Fewer behavioral problems
Decreased risk of developmental delay
Decreased risk of ADHD, autism and cerebral palsy
Omega-3s Can Improve Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Heart attacks and strokes are the world’s leading causes of death. Decades ago, researchers observed that fish-eating communities had very low rates of these diseases. This was later linked to omega-3 consumption. Since then, omega-3 fatty acids have been tied to numerous benefits for heart health. These benefits address:
Triglycerides: Omega-3s can cause a major reduction in triglycerides, usually in the range of 15–30%.
Blood pressure: Omega-3s can reduce blood pressure levels in people with high blood pressure.
“Good” HDL cholesterol: Omega-3s can raise “good” HDL cholesterol levels.
Blood clots: Omega-3s can keep blood platelets from clumping together. This helps prevent the formation of harmful blood clots.
Plaque: By keeping your arteries smooth and free from damage, omega-3s help prevent the plaque that can restrict and harden your arteries.
Inflammation: Omega-3s reduce the production of some substances released during your body’s inflammatory response.
Omega-3s Can Reduce Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions. It includes central obesity — also known as belly fat — as well as high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high triglycerides and low “good” HDL cholesterol levels. It is a major public health concern because it increases your risk of many other illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes. Omega-3 fatty acids can improve insulin resistance, inflammation and heart disease risk factors in people with metabolic syndrome.
Omega-3s Can Fight Autoimmune Diseases
In autoimmune diseases, your immune system mistakes healthy cells for foreign cells and starts attacking them. Type 1 diabetes is one prime example, in which your immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas.
Omega-3s can combat some of these diseases and may be especially important during early life. Studies show that getting enough omega-3s during your first year of life is linked to a reduced risk of many autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, autoimmune diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Omega-3s also help treat lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis.
Omega-3s Can Improve Mental Disorders
Low omega-3 levels have been reported in people with psychiatric disorders. Studies suggest that omega-3 supplements can reduce the frequency of mood swings and relapses in people with both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may also decrease violent behavior.
Omega-3s Can Fight Age-Related Mental Decline and Alzheimer’s Disease
A decline in brain function is one of the unavoidable consequences of aging. Several studies link higher omega-3 intake to decreased age-related mental decline and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. One review of controlled studies suggests that omega-3 supplements may be beneficial at disease onset, when the symptoms of AD are very mild. Keep in mind that more research is needed on omega-3s and brain health.
Omega-3s May Help Prevent Cancer
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the Western world, and omega-3 fatty acids have long been claimed to reduce the risk of certain cancers. Interestingly, studies show that people who consume the most omega-3s have up to a 55% lower risk of colon cancer. Additionally, omega-3 consumption is linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women in some studies.
Omega-3s May Improve Bone and Joint Health
Osteoporosis and arthritis are two common disorders that affect your skeletal system. Studies indicate that omega-3s can improve bone strength by boosting the amount of calcium in your bones, which should lead to a reduced risk of osteoporosis. Omega-3s may also treat arthritis. Patients taking omega-3 supplements have reported reduced joint pain and increased grip strength.
Omega-3 Fats Are Good For Your Skin
DHA is a structural component of your skin. It is responsible for the health of cell membranes, which make up a large part of your skin. A healthy cell membrane results in soft, moist, supple and wrinkle-free skin. EPA also benefits your skin in several ways, including:
Managing oil production and hydration of your skin.
Preventing hyperkeratinization of hair follicles, which appears as the little red bumps often seen on upper arms.
Reducing premature aging of your skin.
Reducing the risk of acne.
Omega-3s can also protect your skin from sun damage. EPA helps block the release of substances that eat away at the collagen in your skin after sun exposure.
The Bottom Line
Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for optimal health. Getting them from whole foods — such as fatty fish two times per week — is the best way to ensure robust omega-3 intake. However, if you don’t eat a lot of fatty fish, then you may want to consider taking an omega-3 supplement. For people deficient in omega-3, this is a cheap and highly effective way to improve health.
Head Nutrition Coach