The Health Benefits Of Omega-3s, And How You Can Get More

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential acids that your body needs to function. Despite this, most people do not consume enough omega-3s. If you do get enough, your vision, sleep, and skin health might improve, among many other health benefits. Read on for the unexpected health benefits of omega-3s, along with how you get more from supplements and food.

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that assist our bodies to function properly. There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

Omega-3 supplements are scattered in front of a label that mentions the types of omega-3 fatty acids.
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BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

Since our body does not create omega-3s, you have to get them through diet. DHA and EPA are often found in fish, while ALA is in nuts, seeds, and oil.

Omega-3s Can Combat Depression

In 2008, researchers gave participants with depression either omega-3 fatty acids or an anti-depressant. After eight weeks, those who took the omega-3s felt happier, even more than those on the anti-depressant.

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Arif Riyanto/Unsplash

EPA has been found to combat depression and anxiety. Although it’s similar to an anti-depressant, combining the two leads to the best results.

Omega-3s Keep Your Vision Sharp

According to Pediatric Research, omega-3s are essential for eye function. DHA, specifically, keeps the eyes moist and healthy. If you don’t get enough, you might get eye problems.

A woman looks into a light for an eye exam.
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Isa Foltin/Getty Images

In 2014, researchers found that consuming omega-3s can lower the risk of macular degeneration, which is the world’s leading cause of blindness.

Omega-3s Help Prevent Certain Cancers

Omega-3s have been found to prevent certain cancers, including breast, prostate, and colon cancer. According to a 2013 study, omega-3s not only quell inflammation that leads to cancer but also helps patients handle chemotherapy.

A diagram shows cancer cells (in blue).
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BSIP/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Eating enough omega-3s can help significantly in some cases. In 2013, the European Journal of Cancer Prevention found that omega-3s might lower the risk of colorectal cancer by 55%.

Omega-3s Might Help You Sleep Better

According to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, people who have low levels of omega-3s get a higher risk of sleep apnea. This is because DHA helps the body create melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep.

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bruce mars/Unsplash

During a 2014 study, researchers discovered that people who eat enough omega-3 fatty acids tend to sleep longer and more deeply.

Omega-3s Reduce Blood Pressure

People with hypertension can benefit from omega-3s. According to 2010 research in Nutrition, patients who eat a substantial amount of omega-3s have healthier blood pressure levels after eight weeks.

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Universal Images Group via Getty Images

EPA is best for blood pressure, which you can get from eating foods like salmon and sunflower oil. This greatly improves your heart heat over time.

Omega-3s Lower Your Risk Of Heart Disease

Omega-3s greatly benefit heart health. After analyzing 50 studies, researchers concluded that omega-3s can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

A man puts an omega-3 supplement in his mouth.
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BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

Specifically, DHA and EPA seem to promote heart health. But make sure you get them from food; taking supplements is not enough to delay heart disease, according to 2012 research in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Omega-3s Heal And Nourish Your Skin

Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA and EPA, promote the growth of cell membranes in your skin. They also reduce inflammation in the skin, which can make it healthier and more youthful, according to a 2013 study.

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Park Street/Unsplash

In 2020, researchers took this concept further. They discovered that consuming enough omega-3s might prevent the onset of eczema, acne, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis.

Omega-3s Can Boost Brain Health During Pregnancy

If mothers eat enough omega-3s during pregnancy, their baby might have better brain health. According to a study in Medical Hypotheses, children getting omega-3s had better memory, fewer behavioral issues, and a lower risk of ADHD and cerebral palsy.

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Since DHA supports eye health, taking omega-3s while pregnant can also enhance a baby’s vision, says a 2013 study in Food & Function.

Omega-3s Might Alleviate Joint Pain

Omega-3s might soothe joint pain in patients with arthritis. In June 2020, researchers confirmed that omega-3s can reduce symptoms of arthritis by lowering joint pain and increasing mobility.

A diagram shows joint pain in the knee.
Andrew Fawcett/Pain
Andrew Fawcett/Pain

Not only do omega-3s alleviate inflammation, but they also strengthen bones, according to the Italian scientific journal Aging. This can decrease your risk of osteoporosis in the future.

Omega-3s Alleviate Inflammation

Inflammation contributes to a long list of chronic diseases. Omega-3 fatty acids lower the production of molecules that contribute to inflammation, according to research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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If left unchecked, consistent inflammation can contribute to heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic kidney disease, fatty liver disease, and cancer.

Omega-3s Increase “Good” Cholesterol

There are two types of cholesterol: LDL, which contributes to disease, and HDL, which removes other types of cholesterol from your bloodstream. Omega-3s increase the “good” HDL cholesterol, according to 2012 research in the Journal of Nutrition.

One cracked egg is seen in a carton of eggs.

Omega-3s also reduce triglycerides in your bloodstream. Both LDL and triglycerides contribute to stroke and heart disease.

Omega-3s Remove Fat From The Liver

Over 25% of Americans have fatty liver disease. Fortunately, omega-3s might lower your risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

A diagram shows excess fat on a liver.
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According to a 2016 study in Gastroenterology Research and Practice, omega-3s remove some fat from the liver. Excess fat causes inflammation, which can eventually lead to scarring, liver damage, and even liver failure.

Omega-3s Might Delay Dementia And Alzheimer’s

Multiple studies have linked omega-3s to a lower risk of dementia. According to a 2015 study in BioMed Research International, omega-3s remove inflammation markers that directly contribute to Alzheimer’s.

A caretaker reads to a woman who has dementia.
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Alexandra Beier/Getty Images

During early onset Alzheimer’s, taking omega-3 supplements might help people retain memory, says 2018 research in Nutritional Neuroscience.

Omega-3s Feed Your Digestive System

In 2017, scientists from the University of Nottingham discovered that omega-3s can improve digestive health. Specifically, eating omega-3 fatty acids diversifies the number of healthy bacteria in your gut.

A woman opens a package of omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
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BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

If you lack healthy gut bacteria, you will have a higher risk of irritable bowel syndrome, bowel cancer, and even a weak immune system.

Most People Do Not Get Enough Omega-3s

Nutritional guidelines recommend taking between 250 and 500 mg of DHA and EPA daily. However, most people don’t eat that much. According to a study in Nutrients, which analyzed populations in America and Germany, 98% of people have an omega-3 deficiency.

A pill is labeled omega-3.
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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Most people only receive around 90 mg daily. But how do you get more? By enhancing your diet.

Omega-3 Supplements Have Shortcomings

Contrary to popular belief, omega-3 supplements are not an adequate replacement for healthy foods. Research in the New England Journal of Medicine found that taking supplements does not lower the risk of heart attack and stroke, like food does.

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BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

Harvard Health Publishing explains that the body does not absorb supplements as well as food. Although supplements can help, you will be better off eating more foods with omega-3s.

Fish Oil Is The Easiest Source Of Omega-3s To Get

As the name suggests, fish oil comes from fatty fish. Since it contains high amounts of EPA and DHA, fish oil contribute to most of the benefits listed, according to Medical News Today.

A man eats a herring whole.
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Wenstedt/BSR Agency/Getty Images

Although fish oil supplements are available, your body will absorb more omega-3s if you eat fish. Salmon, tuna, oysters, herring, mackerel, and crab are all healthy sources of fish oil.

Krill Oil Might Be Better Than Fish Oil

Krill oil is similar to fish oil, but it comes from tiny crustaceans called Antarctic krill. However, research suggests that the body might absorb more omega-3s from krill oil.

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In 2015, a study in Lipids in Health and Disease compared the two oils. Participants that took krill oil had higher levels of EPA and DHA in their blood than those who ate fish oil. If you want to take the supplement, consider krill oil.

Finding The Best Fish Oil Capsules

When purchasing fish oil tablets, search for high-quality ingredients. Registered dietitian Eliza Savage recommends finding a brand that catches wild fish, as those have a lower risk of mercury.

Capsules of fish oil lie in a pile.

Some companies, like Nordic Naturals, mix some fish oils with algae oil (which is also high in omega-3s). Other exceptional brands include Carlson, InnovixLabs, and Now Foods.

How To Take Omega-3 Supplements

If you decide to take omega-3 supplements, do not take more than three grams per day. According to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, taking too much can increase side effects.

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The American Heart Association advises people without heart conditions to take fish oil supplements twice a week. If you have high cholesterol, heart disease, or high blood pressure, you might need it daily.

Flax Seeds And Chia Seeds Are Natural Sources Of Omega-3s

Certain seeds also contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one teaspoon of flaxseeds offers 2,350 mg of omega-3s. Flaxseed oil is often taken as a supplement.

A jar and spoonful of flaxseeds are next to a container of flaxseed oil.
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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Chia seeds also provide omega-3s, along with all eight essential amino acids. Mix these seeds into smoothies, granola, oatmeal, cereal, baked goods, or salads.

Nuts, Especially Walnuts, Also Help

Many nuts provide omega-3 fatty acids, but none more than walnuts. Fourteen walnut halves supply 2,570 mg of omega-3s.

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Wouter Supardi Salari/Unsplash

Along with omega-3s, walnuts also contain antioxidants such as vitamin E, copper, and manganese. Do not remove the skin before eating; most of the nutrients are in the skin (not the shell).

Certain Vegetable Oils Have Plenty Of Omega-3s

Several vegetable oils also offer omega-3 fatty acids. According to WebMD, flaxseed and canola oils have the highest omega-3 content. But mustard oil, soybean oil, walnut oil, and cod liver oil are also good choices.

A woman pours canola oil into a pan.
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Vegetable oils provide rare ALA. This fatty acid supplies the body with energy when it breaks down.

Eggs Are Almost As Good As Fish

If you prefer not to eat fish, consider eggs. A single egg can have between 100 and 500 mg of omega-3s, depending on how it’s made. Most of these are contained in the yolk.

Chefs crack eggs open.
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JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images

According to Scientific American, three eggs have the same amount of omega-3s as a three-ounce serving of salmon. But a single egg provides more omega-3s than shrimp, tilapia, and crab.

Soybeans And Soy Products Provide Omega-3s

Whether you enjoy animal products or not, you can eat soy for omega-3s. Half a cup of soy contains 670 mg of omega-3s. However, it is also high in omega-6s, which can lead to inflammation.

Cut tofu squares are arranged on a tray.
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Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Because of this, you can find some omega-3-enhanced soy products on the market. But eating soy in moderation is still healthy.

Certain Diets Have A Higher Risk Of Deficiency

Certain diets have a higher risk of omega-3 deficiency. Because many omega-3s come from animal products, vegetarians have a greater likelihood of deficiency, according to the Journal of Nutritional Science. Vegans do, too.

A chef places a vegetarian dish on a table.

People on low-fat diets might not get enough omega-3s, either, because fatty acids come from healthy fats. And finally, people with malabsorption issues might not get enough.

Symptoms Of Omega-3 Deficiency Are Not Easy To Identify

Since omega-3s support the growth of skin and nails, you might notice some subtle symptoms of a deficiency. Your skin might become dry, acne might appear, and your nails might turn brittle.

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Adrian Swancar/Unsplash

Other symptoms might include insomnia and hair loss, according to NetDoctor. But these symptoms might also apply to other disorders.

Since The Signs Are Subtle, You Might Want To See A Doctor

Because the symptoms of omega-3 deficiency are so subtle, you might want to consult a doctor, says registered dietitian Brigitte Zeitlin. A blood test can divulge the amount of omega-3s in your blood.

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Austin Distel/Unsplash

Medical professionals can test for less obvious symptoms, such as higher amounts of inflammation and cholesterol. They might also ask you about diet, depression, and anxiety.

The Side Effects Of Taking Too Much

As with any vitamin, you can overdose on omega-3s. Too many omega-3s can increase the risk of bleeding, even in people who have no history of bleeding disorders. If you take blood thinners of diabetes medication, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.

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Bermix Studio/Unsplash

Fish oil can also cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Speak to a doctor if you experience any side effects.