Omega-3 fatty acids are perhaps the most popular dietary supplement to date. Probably everyone knows about the health benefits of Omega-3. These compounds have a ton of impressive health benefits. We are sure that when you learn about them, you will certainly include more oily fish in your diet, or maybe start taking Omega-3 supplements.
In our article, we propose to study in more detail the question of the beneficial properties of Omega-3 fatty acids, based on scientific facts and evidence. We will consider what Omega-3 is, what these fatty acids are useful for, how to take it correctly so as not to harm and there was a noticeable effect. We’ll cover these questions one by one, but let’s start with the fact that omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient for overall health. Your body does not produce them on its own, which means that they are “essential fatty acids” – you must consume them with food or as a dietary supplement.
When it comes to the beneficial properties of omega-3s, you usually don’t even know where to start, because it is extremely rare for nutrients to have such a wide range of uses and beneficial health outcomes. The most common benefit of omega-3 fatty acids is to reduce the risk of heart disease, but this is not the only studied plus for including a large amount of fatty acids in your diet. Omega-3s are useful for the proper growth and development of the fetus, healthy retinal function, as well as maintaining a healthy weight and much more. These acids support and promote optimal health for all, without exception.
The World Health Organization recommends omega-3s as approved treatments for high triglycerides. As a rule, these are drugs containing EPA and DHA, which will be discussed later.
What is omega-3 fatty acids and why are they needed
Omega-3s are a specific type of polyunsaturated fatty acids, that is, they contain more than one double bond in their chemical structure. “3” refers to where in the chemical structure the first double bond occurs (between the third and fourth carbon atoms).
The human body is capable of synthesizing saturated fatty acids, but it lacks an enzyme that will allow the formation of a double bond in the desired molecular position to create omega-3 on its own. That is why a person has to look for sources of Omega-3 from the outside.
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids found in foods: these are ALA, EPA and DHA.
Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA): Plant-based omega-3s are found in green leafy vegetables, flax seeds, chia and canola, walnuts and soybean oils. ALA is known as short chain omega-3, meaning the body must convert it to longer EPA and DHA in order to absorb it. This process is quite inefficient, since only about 1% of the ALA consumed from food is converted into the long-chain version that the body requires (although the female body absorbs a little more than 1%, but this is still not enough).
Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA): A 20-carbon fatty acid found in oily fish, algae oil and krill oil. The body is able to absorb this omega-3 fatty acid in its original form. Along with DHA, this is omega-3, which the body needs in large quantities to ensure a healthy state.
Docosahexaenoic acid (Docosahexaenoic Acid, DHA): This 22-carbon molecule is also found in oily fish, krill oil and algae. The human body converts some DHA molecules back to EPA to keep them at fairly equal levels if you consume more DHA.
Balance Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
It is very important that fatty acids are in balance in the human body. To balance unsaturated fatty acids, you must also get omega-6, another type of fatty acid, in order to function properly and prevent the disease. The most healthy ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 is considered a ratio of 1: 1. Unfortunately, omega-6 fatty acids are found in much more foods that we eat daily in our diets. According to estimates, in the diet of modern humans the ratio is closer to 20: 1 or 30: 1 omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids come in the form of linoleic acid (LA) and are found in sufficient quantities in meat and dairy products, eggs and vegetable oils – what we eat every day. The predominance of omega-6 fatty acids causes the prerequisites for the development of inflammatory processes in the body. Therefore, to balance the balance, you must take Omega-3 fatty acids.
According to a study conducted in the period from 2003 to 2008 in Western countries, most people do not receive the required amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, there is no official recommended daily intake for omega-3s. However, many doctors recommend eating fatty fish 2-3 times a week to replenish omega-3 fatty acids in the body.
In general, most health organizations call the figure between 250 mg and 500 mg of EPA and DHA for consumption every day. This dosage is considered a reasonable amount to support human health without serious illness. However, people with heart disease (or people with a high risk of heart disease), depression, anxiety, and tumorous diseases can take a much larger dosage – up to 4000 mg per day.
Among the symptoms of deficiency of these fatty acids are: fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor blood circulation. Also, these symptoms can be caused by an imbalance of omega-3 to omega-6, which can also lead to the development of inflammatory diseases over time.
In 2009, the Harvard School of Public Health published a survey of selected risk factors associated with specific deaths. According to their estimates, the small amount of omega-3 consumed is the eighth in the list of the most serious risk factors that contribute to death ( 1 ).
To get all the benefits of omega-3s, it may be difficult for some people to consume the required amount of oily fish, especially with the known risks associated with farmed fish (heavy metal pollution with pesticides). This is why eating quality omega-3 supplements may be the best solution in this case.
Why is it useful to take Omega-3
Consider 11 known beneficial properties of omega-3 fatty acids for women and men
1. Good for heart health
One of the best-known benefits of omega-3s is how they positively affect the risk factors associated with heart disease. This is one of the reasons why the American Heart Association very often talks about the importance of including these fatty acids in your diet ( 2 ). Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death worldwide, but people who eat balanced and eat fatty fish have surprisingly low cases of these diseases, which is at least partially due to their high consumption of omega-3s.
Although some studies have not found correlations indicating that omega-3 significantly reduces the risk of stroke or heart attacks, other experiments confirm the opposite ( 3 ).
Lower triglyceride levels
The highest amount of omega-3 is usually required for people with high triglycerides, a major risk factor for heart disease. Taking omega-3 supplements is an effective prevention and treatment to lower triglycerides.
Studies show that taking omega-3 fatty acids increases the level of “good” HDL cholesterol, although some results also show a slight increase in “bad” LDL cholesterol ( 4 ). The ratio of HDL: LDL should be very close to 2: 1.
Lowering high blood pressure
A 2010 study showed that three servings of salmon every week successfully lowered blood pressure in overweight young people for an eight-week period ( 5 ). Although this is not conclusive evidence that omega-3 fatty acids lower blood pressure, this is an encouraging preliminary result.
Prevention of arterial plaque formation
By preventing damage to your arteries, omega-3s can help your body prevent the formation of plaques, which can make your blood supply difficult (20).
Reducing the symptoms of metabolic syndrome
A group of risk factors known as metabolic syndrome include abdominal obesity, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, and low HDL cholesterol. These risk factors indicate a high likelihood of developing heart disease, stroke, or diabetes. Numerous studies have shown that taking the omega-3 dietary supplement improves symptoms of the metabolic syndrome and can help protect you from related diseases ( 6 ).
Prevention of blood clots
Omega-3 helps platelets not stick together, which prevents the formation of blood clots, which can cause serious harm to the body.
2. Can fight mental disorders and depression
There are a number of indicators of brain function and mental health that improve when people receive good doses of omega-3 fatty acids.
Depression and anxiety
These common mental health problems are some of the most common in the modern world, and conventional treatments for depression are, for the most part, disappointingly ineffective. However, people who regularly get large amounts of omega-3s are less likely to be depressed than those who are deficient in fatty acids.
Several studies show that people with symptoms of depression and / or increased anxiety see an improvement after adding omega-3s to their diets ( 7 ). At least one study comparing the effects of taking standard antidepressant and omega-3s has shown that fatty acid supplements are just as effective in controlling the symptoms of depression ( 8 ).
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Studies comparing omega-3 levels in children have found that patients diagnosed with ADHD have lower levels of fatty acids than healthy children ( 9 ). Limited but promising results confirm that there is some effectiveness in taking omega-3s to correct ADHD ( 10 ).
A meta-analysis by the University of St. Louis School of Medicine showed that several studies examining the effects of taking omega-3 patients with schizophrenia showed moderately positive results, especially in the early stages of the disease ( 11 ).
The disease, also known as manic depression, is a complex and rather debilitating condition. There is some evidence that omega-3 benefits patients with bipolar disorder by stabilizing mood ( 12 ).
Other mental illness
Some reviews found correlations between omega-3 and a decrease in the manifestations of aggressive behavior, antisocial behavior, and borderline personality disorder ( 13 ).
In small clinical trials, the potentially neuroprotective effect of omega-3 fatty acids on people with dementia, an age-related mental disorder, and even Alzheimer’s disease, was observed. It seems that high levels of omega-3 in the blood can help slow down or even reverse some cognitive decline ( 14 ).
3. Have anti-inflammatory effect
One of the reasons that omega-3 fatty acids can be so beneficial for health lies in their ability to reduce and suppress the onset of inflammatory processes in the body. Inflammation is the basis of most diseases and is associated with the development of almost all major diseases, therefore, by eating foods that have an anti-inflammatory effect, you give your body the ability to overcome the disease without the use of serious medications.
In particular, recent evidence suggests that supplementation with omega-3s can reduce some inflammation caused by fat accumulation in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease ( 15 ).
4. Provides prevention and treatment of autoimmune diseases
Autoimmune disease is a poorly diagnosed type of disease. Sometimes it is required to make up to 6-10 visits to the doctor so that the diagnosis is made and confirmed. This is due to the many symptoms caused by these conditions.
Autoimmune conditions, the main characteristic of which is the disruption of the immune system when it begins to “attack” healthy cells, include diseases such as type 1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, leaky intestine syndrome (increased intestinal permeability) and a lot others.
Numerous studies have found a connection between a high level of omega-3 intake and a decrease in the risk of developing autoimmune diseases or an improvement in the symptoms of their course. Some of them suggest that the best protective effect occurs when fatty acids are consumed in large quantities during the first year of life ( 16 ).
5. Reduces the risk of developing tumor diseases
Studies in large populations of people over the long term confirm the ability of omega-3 fatty acids to reduce the likelihood of certain types of cancer.
According to observations in Scotland and China, people who consume omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) are less likely to develop colorectal cancer ( 17 ).
After many laboratory studies have shown that fatty acids can be effective in slowing down or reversing the growth of hormonal malignancies, namely prostate cancer and breast cancer, epidemiological studies have been carried out in animals and humans to make sure that this effect takes place to be in real life. In some reports, the data are somewhat controversial, but there is evidence that breast and prostate cancer can be slowed down (or reduced risk) in people who eat a lot of oily fish or take omega-3 as a dietary supplement ( 18 )
A laboratory study in 2014 showed that the effects of zinc, the active ingredient in turmeric , can be enhanced in combination with the intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which contributes to the further study of animal and human models to analyze the potential of this combination ( 19 ).
6. Good for healthy bones and joints.
The problem of osteoporosis is often found among older people, of whom there are hundreds of millions worldwide. Osteoporosis increases the risk of bone fractures tremendously.
Unsaturated fatty acids, including omega-3s, are recognized in scientific studies that can increase the amount of calcium that is absorbed by the intestines (improves when taken with vitamin D3) and enhances bone strength and bone collagen synthesis.
In small studies, an increase in bone density was observed in elderly people with osteoporosis with the addition of EPA compared with placebo groups, whose bone density decreased over time ( 20 ).
Omega-3 fatty acids can also affect the development of arthritis. Back in 1959, studies were published on the effectiveness of cod liver oil for patients with arthritis. In a 1959 study, 93% of participants showed significant clinical improvement ( 21 ). Although there is no evidence that high omega-3 levels can prevent the development of arthritis, it seems obvious that they can reduce the inflammation that causes joint pain.
7. May improve sleep quality
If you have sleep disorders, this indicates a malfunction in the body and entails other health problems. Healthy sleep allows the body to fight the disease through natural processes in the body like digestion, hormonal balance, and cognitive reactions.
Children often have trouble sleeping when they don’t get enough fatty acids in their diet. In adults, low omega-3 levels are associated with obstructive sleep apnea. One reason for this may be that low fatty acids are associated with lower levels of melatonin, a hormone partially responsible for helping the body fall asleep. The good news is that, according to research, sleep can be established with regular intake of omega-3 fatty acids in both adults and children ( 22 ).
8. Useful for the growth and development of children
Infancy and childhood are some of the most important time periods in a person’s life when you need to get a lot of omega-3 in your diet, because these acids directly affect the growth and functioning of brain cells. It is imperative that children and adolescents receive a good amount of DHA and EPA so that their brain develops properly.
Pregnant women should be especially aware of this, because children whose mothers consumed omega-3 during pregnancy study better, have better psychomotor and cognitive indicators, and hand-eye coordination. These children also have a low risk of developing ADHD.
While breast milk is an excellent source of fatty acids for babies (as long as the mother receives a lot), artificial formulas do not always contain enough nutrients. On the other hand, omega-3-enriched mixtures can be a good solution for children in their early years.
There are studies confirming that taking EPA and DHA can even help prevent cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorders and asthma in some children ( 23 ).
9. May alleviate pain in PMS and menstruation.
About 75% of women experience cramping during PMS, and for some of them, they become debilitating and affect work or home life. However, studies show that taking omega-3 significantly affects the symptoms of the menstrual cycle, making them milder ( 24 ).
In fact, one study comparing ibuprofen and fish oil supplements in adolescent PMS showed that the supplement did work better to relieve menstrual pain than a standard drug ( 25 ).
10. Reduce the risk of macular degeneration
The retina contains quite a lot of DHA, which makes it necessary for this fatty acid to function. The National Eye Institute, part of the National Institute of Health, concludes that there is “consistent evidence” suggesting that long-chain DHA and EPA polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential for retinal health and can help protect eyes from disease ( 26 ).
In particular, high omega-3 levels reliably correlate with a lower risk of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over 60 years old ( 27 ).
11. Supports skin health and fights signs of aging
Just as fatty acids protect bone density, they can also help the skin stay beautiful inside. DHA and EPA benefit the skin by controlling the secretion of sebum and naturally slowing down aging. Some studies have even shown that omega-3 benefits skin by helping prevent acne and other inflammations ( 28 ).
How to take Omega-3
There is no recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids. However, most doctors and nutritionists agree that at least 2 servings of fish (preferably fatty) 150 grams each week are a good start to include fatty acids in your diet. This will be about 500 mg of EPA and DHA every day. For the treatment of diseases, it is recommended that you consume up to 4000 mg, depending on your doctor’s prescription. For the prevention and treatment of heart disease, it is usually prescribed to take 2000 mg of omega-3 every day for 3 months.
Some high-quality omega-3 supplements will have less EPA / DHA, but will also include digestive enzymes. By combining omega-3 with a digestive enzyme mixture, the absorption of fatty acids will be maximum.
Keep in mind that alpha-linolenic acid, which is found in plant foods, requires a lot of body energy to convert to EPA and DHA. Therefore, if you follow a vegetarian diet and do not eat fish, and also do not accept the intake of food additives – you are advised to eat a greater number of plant products with omega-3s to satisfy all the needs of the body.
Omega-3 nutritional supplements should be taken during meals, regardless of the time of day – can be taken both in the morning and in the evening.
Omega 3 in food
The percentages indicated below are based on a rate of 4,000 mg per day.
Atlantic mackerel : 6982 mg in 1 cup boiled fish (174%)
Walnuts: 2664 mg in 1/4 cup (66%)
Chia seeds : 2457 mg in 1 tablespoon (61%)
Herring : 1885 mg 100 g. (47%)
Alaskan salmon (wild) : 1716 mg per 100 g. (42%)
Flaxseed: 1597 mg in 1 tbsp. (39%)
Longfin tuna : 1414 mg per 100 g. (35%)
White fish : 1363 mg per 100 g. (34%)
Sardines : 1363 mg in 1 can / 120 g. (34%)
Cannabis seeds : 1000 mg in 1 tbsp. (25%)
Anchovies : 951 mg in 1 can / 60 g. (23%)
Egg yolks : 240 mg in 1/2 cup (6%)
There are some incredible foods that are high in fatty acids, but depending on your diet and limitations, you can also use a food supplement that contains these nutrients.
Among the omega-3 dietary supplements that you can take every day, the following stand out:
Salmon fish oil: 4767 mg in 1 tablespoon (119%)
Cod liver oil: 2664 mg in 1 tbsp. (66%)
Algae oil: 400 mg in 1 capsule (10%)
Some sources also recommend krill oil, mammalian oil (made from an o-ring), ALA oil, and target oil with a green leaf. However, omega-3s from fatty fish and seaweed are considered the safest.
Omega-3: possible harm, contraindications and side effects
The best thing about omega-3 foods and supplements is that omega-3 fatty acids do not have any known drug interactions or side effects, according to reliable sources.
The American WebMD portal lists some moderate and minor drug interactions with extremely high omega-3 intake, including interactions with birth control pills, high blood pressure medications, anticoagulants (to slow down blood clotting), and Orlistat, a weight loss drug (96).
- Omega-3 is a type of essential fatty acid necessary for the human body to perfectly perform a large number of natural systemic functions.
- Most people today do not consume enough fatty acids and / or have the wrong ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 (the correct ratio is about 1: 1, but many people have a ratio of up to 20: 1).
- There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids – alpha-linolenic (ALA), eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA). The first is a medium chain fatty acid and must be converted to EPA before being absorbed by the body, but only about 1% of the ALA consumed can be absorbed. EPA and DHA are more accessible forms for the human body and are not the subject of most scientific studies regarding omega-3s.
- Scientists have found and continue to find out why fatty acids are useful. They are associated with a ton of great health benefits. Some of the most notable benefits include improving heart health, preventing or improving the symptoms of mental illness, or reducing cerebral circulation, lowering inflammatory diseases, and reducing the risk of developing autoimmune diseases and cancer.
- The best way to get enough omega-3s is to eat foods rich in these nutrients, such as Atlantic mackerel, herring, and Alaskan salmon. High fatty acid plant foods contain only ALA, so they need to be consumed in much larger quantities to get the same effect as EPA and DHA. You can also take omega-3 supplements made from fish oil.