What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Why Should You Care About Them?
Omega-3 is a shortened term for omega-3 fatty acid. It is an ‘essential’ fatty acids, meaning that it is essential for your body to obtain it from your diet or supplements – because the body does not produce it naturally.
Most health organizations recommend a minimum of 250-500 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day for adults and for children, anywhere from 700-1,200 milligrams depending on their age.¹
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats, which means that they take a bit more for your body to break them down as they have many double bonds in their chemical structure.
There are three primary types of omega-3 fatty acids: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). DHA and EPA are mainly found in animal foods and algae while ALA is mostly found in plants.³
Omega-3 fatty acids are needed for your body to function with optimal performance. They also provide support to the brain and many other areas of the body as well as help support the body in fighting back against a variety of different disorders or diseases.
Below are 9 disorders or diseases that can be reduced, improved, or avoided completely with the help of a regular and consistent intake of Omega-3 fatty acids.
1. Omega-3s Can Help Prevent and Fight Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system begins attacking healthy cells in the body because it is misinterpreting them as foreign cells.⁵
For example, type 1 diabetes is an instance where the immune system attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.⁶
Studies show, that consuming a steady diet of omega-3’s during the first year of life, reduces the risk of developing many autoimmune diseases including:⁷
- Type 1 diabetes
- Autoimmune diabetes
- Multiple Sclerosis
Furthermore, the ongoing intake of omega-3’s has also been shown to help treat the symptoms of currently present autoimmune diseases including:⁸
- Crohn’s Disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
2. Omega-3s Can Help Improve Mental Disorders
According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (NCIB), people with psychiatric disorders have often been reported to have low-levels of omega-3’s.⁹
Studies show that improved omega-3 levels have reduced the frequency of mood swings; and may even help decrease violent behaviors.¹⁰
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements have also shown to reduce relapses for people with both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.¹²
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acid May Help Alleviate Depression & Anxiety
Depression and anxiety are two of the most common disorders in the world. Studies estimate that 15 million suffer from social anxiety disorder, while 14.8 million suffering from major depressive disorder. There are also variations on these disorders, so these numbers are extremely conservative.₄₆
While we’ve all experienced them ourselves in a mild way, either situationally or seasonally, chronic depression and anxiety and their effects can be devastating on a person’s life and family.
Depression often presents with lethargy, sadness, and an overall loss of interest in a person’s life. It is more than just a temporary sadness, but a crippling issue that can have the person lose interest in participating in daily activities, or so upset that they may consider doing harm to themselves or others.
Anxiety on the other hand, often presents with constant nervousness and worry.
Both of these diseases can be deadly, particularly because those suffering with them can be doing so in silence, without anyone knowing. Also, in our society, there are some who do not believe that these are true afflictions, and may inadvertently, or purposefully shame those suffering, telling them to ‘shake it off’ - as if it it is truly just a decision that can be made not to feel this way. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Depression and anxiety are both the result of a chemical imbalance that needs a variety of different treatment methods, which can also be very different for each person.
Luckily, studies have found that people who consume omega-3’s on a regular basis, are less likely to suffer from both depression and/or anxiety.
In fact, when people who were already dealing with depression or anxiety began taking omega-3 supplements, often reported their symptoms to be improved or relieved.
Of the 3 types of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA seems to be the best at helping fit against both depression and anxiety. One 8-week, double-blind trial performed with 60 different patients even showed EPA to be equally effective in treating depression as the common antidepressant drug, Prozac.⁴⁵
4. Omega-3s Can Help Reduce Asthma in Children
As someone who lost a friend, at age 14, to an asthma attack, this is one I take to heart.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that presents symptoms like coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath. If untreated, an asthma attack can lead to complete inflammation and blockage of the airways, and ultimately, death.¹⁴
Sadly, according to NCIB the rates of asthma have continued to increase over the last decade, making it important for parents and adults alike, to do all they can to prevent this debilitating disease.¹⁵
The good news is – several studies have linked a lower risk of asthma in both children and young adults to consistent, omega-3 consumption.¹⁶ If you are not one for eating fish, nuts or other omega-3 rich foods, a reduction of risk for asthma is a wonderful reason to consider a fish oil supplement.
5. Omega-3s May Help Prevent Cancer
We have all been affected by cancer in one way or another. According to the CDC, Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States only exceeded by heart disease. ¹⁷
Scarier still, while cancer can present in so many different forms, it can be tough to diagnose quickly.
Interestingly, studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids have long been linked to reducing the risk of certain types of cancers. Specifically, colon cancer, prostate cancer and breast cancer.
Some studies show that those who consume the proper amount of omega-3’s on a regular basis have up to a 55% lower risk of colon cancer. ²⁰
While not all studies agree²² – it can’t hurt to add a bit of extra protection against this deadly disease. After all, omega-3’s are essential to the body anyway, and provide tens of other benefits as well.
6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Reduce Symptoms of ADHD in Children
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral disorder which presents itself with an inability to focus, inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. ²³
Remarkably, several independent studies found children with ADHD to have lower level of omega-3 fatty acids present in their blood than compared to peers without ADHD.²⁵
Additionally, numerous studies have shown, that by adding an appropriate level of daily omega-3’s, this can be one of the most powerful treatments for those suffering from ADHD.
Study participants who have added omega-3 supplements to their daily routine have noted improvements in their attention and abilities to complete tasks. Many have even reported a reduction in impulsiveness, restlessness, aggression and hyperactivity. ³²
While there are many other medications and drugs prescribed for the treatment of ADHD, it’s important that the least invasive, safest and most natural approaches are always considered first, especially when treating children.
7. Omega 3s Can Fight Age-Related Mental Decline and Reduce Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
1 in 10 people, age 65 and older are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia.⁹ This means, that as of 2017, there are an estimated 5.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s dementia, and just as many family members of these people struggling to care for their ailing loved ones.
Alzheimer’s dementia is a decline in brain function that can cause confusion, forgetfulness, and even paranoia and fear.
Because Alzheimer’s is a disease that tends to be hereditary, it is that much more important that the families affected by Alzheimer’s find both treatments for those suffering, as well as take on preventative measures to protect themselves and everyone else in their family.
Fortunately for these families, several studies have shown that a higher omega-3 intake is linked to a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.¹⁰
Additionally, one study found that people who eat higher levels of omega-3-rich fish, tend to have more brain tissue that processes memories, information and emotions than those who do not.¹²
If Alzheimer’s runs in your family, be sure to start sharing omega-3 rich foods and recipes at all your next gatherings, and share this information with them as well. You could help delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s in another family member’s future.
8. Omega-3s May Reduce/Improve Risk Factors for Heart Disease
In the United States alone, about 610,000 people die of heart disease every year, according to the CDC. That means it is the leading cause of death for both men and women and 1 in every 4 deaths is related to heart disease.³²
With statistics like this, it is important to take as many precautions and preventive measures as possible, so you are not one of the 25% of people who will suffer heart-disease-related death.
For decades, researchers have observed that cultures and communities that commonly eat a great deal of fish, also have very low rates of heart disease. Later, it was discovered that the primary link, was in the omega-3 fatty acids present in fish-heavy diets.³⁴
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have numerous heart-benefiting benefits, all which combine to reduce your risk of heart disease. These benefits include:
- Decreased Blood pressure: Omega-3s can also reduce blood pressure levels, which can help reduce stress and strain on the heart.³⁵
- Improved HDL-cholesterol: Omega-3s can raise HDL (the "good") cholesterol levels, the type that your body uses for energy and fuel.³⁷
- Decrease in Triglycerides: Triglyceride levels can indicate how much fat is in the blood. While it’s normal to have a certain amount for bodily function, higher fat levels have been linked to greater chances for heart disease. Omega-3s can help to majorly reduce triglycerides, usually in the range of 15–30%.³⁸
- Reduction of Plaque: By helping to keep the arteries smooth and free from damage, omega-3s help prevent plaque that can build up. Plaque is dangerous as it can restrict the arteries, causing the heart to pump harder to move blood through the vessels and increases the risk of a clot stopping up a congested vessel. ³⁹
- Decreased Inflammation: Omega-3s are notorious for reducing some of the substances released during the inflammatory response, this is no different when it comes to inflammation centered around the circulatory system and affecting the heart. ⁴²
- Reduction of Blood clots: Omega-3s can prevent the formation of harmful blood clots by keeping blood platelets from clumping together.⁴⁴
9. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Can Reduce Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions including central obesity (belly fat), high triglycerides, low HDL levels, and high blood pressure and insulin resistance. Metabolic syndrome is a major concern as it can increase your risk of a variety of other dangerous diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.
Because omega-3’s help to reduce insulin resistance, inflammation and other heart disease risk factors (as discussed above), these benefits all help improve risk factors for those with metabolic syndrome.³¹
Where to Get Your Omega-3s
With all the above benefits, it is essential that you ensure that you and your family are getting the right amount of omega-3’s daily.
If you’d prefer to add them to your diet, foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Fatty fish
- Flaxseed oil
- Flax seeds
- Peanut Butter
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Brussels sprouts
If you regularly cook with oils, there are many that are high in ALA-Omega-3’s including:
- Canola oil
- Cod liver oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Mustard oil
- Soybean oil
- Walnut oil
If your diet is not high in the above foods however, an omega-3 supplement (like fish oil) is often recommended.⁴⁴
Which Fish Oil Supplements Are Best
We’ve tried a variety of different omega-3 supplements, and below are 3 of our favorites and why.
1. Nutrigold Triple Strength Fish Oil, by Nutrigold
Made from Alaskan fish. 85% of the Omega-3s in Nutrigold’s brand are in Bioavailable Triglyceride Form.
It is one of the top-selling online fish oil supplements and each softgel contains 1250 mg of fish oil; 1060 mg of this (88%) are omega-3 fatty acids. Of these, EPA and DHA account for 750 and 250 mg each.
Link: Nutrigold Triple Strength Fish Oil
2. OmegaXL by Great Health Works
OmegaXL is an Omega-3 supplement that is actually not made from fish, but instead, the omega-3 is extracted from the New Zealand green-lipped mussel (Perna Canaliculus). This omega-3 supplement is ideal for those with shellfish allergies, as all of the all of the allergy-inducing proteins have been removed.
The product is described as a Super Oil with 22 times more omega-3 fatty acids compared to regular fish oil. Omega-3 joint health supplement is formulated with a patented complex of 30 healthy fatty acids, including 12% DHA and 18% EPA. There are numerous clinical studies showcasing the benefits of this supplement, particularly in the area of joint health.
Finally, if you aren’t a fan of huge pills, the OmegaXL Soft Gel Cap is potent, yet significantly smaller than the average fish oil pill.
3. Viva Labs Ultra Strength Fish Oil by Viva Naturals
This fish oil is extracted using a proprietary supercritical extraction method.
Each capsule is highly concentrated and provides a full 1,000 mg of omega 3 fatty acids, and 705 mg and 245 mg of EPA and DHA, respectively. Fully 83% of the fish oil is DHA and EPA.
Just two softgels per day provide 2,200mg of fish oil—triple the concentration of most brands.
Remember to talk to your doctor about how much omega-3 you, or your family should add to your daily routine.
Do you have another favorite way to consume your omega-3’s?
2 Dietary Guidelines - Health.gov
³ Dietary Guidelines for Americans - Health.gov
⁵ Scientific Opinion on the Tolerable Upper Intake Level of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) - European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
⁶ Use of cod liver oil during the first year of life is associated with lower risk of childhood-onset type 1 diabetes: a large, population-based, case-control study. - US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (NCBI)
³² http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs310/en/ - World Health Organization
₄₆ 8 Facts About Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders - Elements Behavioral Health