17 surprising omega-3 benefits explained
Omega-3 is called an essential fatty acid for a reason – it’s essential for your body to function, but it has some surprising hidden health benefits too.
What is omega-3?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fats known for their many health benefits.
Two important omega-3s, DHA and EPA, are found mainly in oily fish including salmon, mackerel and sardines.
However, you don’t have to miss out if you don’t eat fish – linseeds, pecans, hazelnuts and walnuts are rich in another form of omega-3 called ALA, which gets turned into DHA and EPA in your body.
Is omega-3 a vitamin?
No, omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats not vitamins. However, food sources of omega-3 and supplements often also contain vitamins like vitamin A and vitamin D.
Our bodies cannot make omega-3, so it is considered an essential nutrient in the same way some vitamins are considered essential.
What does omega-3 do?
Omega-3s make up important parts of cell membranes in our body, helping our organs, immune system and hormone system function properly.
What is omega-3 good for?
Omega-3 has several important roles within the human body including supporting the health of:
- Developing infants and children
To name a few! We will go into omega-3 fatty acid benefits more individually below.
Omega-3 vs omega-6
Unfortunately, most of us aren’t getting enough omega-3.
We tend to have much higher levels of a different fatty acid, omega-6, in our diets, found in foods such as vegetable oils and meat.
Omega-6 is still an essential fat but when we eat more omega-6 than omega-3, it can cause inflammation, which may be linked to conditions from arthritis to heart disease.
The answer? Up your omega-3 intake. Try taking a fish supplement with a good balance of DHA and EPA.
You’ve probably heard that omega-3 is good for your joints, brain and heart, but we’ve found 17 potential wellbeing benefits to this essential fat. Omega-3 could help:
- Sleep better
- Keep skin hydrated
- Soothe your skin
- Maintain normal blood pressure
- Support your memory
- Keep your eyes healthy
- Support growing brains
- Ease PMS
- Support during menstruation
- Support heart health
- Help with anxiety
- Reduce ADHD symptoms in children
- Help with metabolic syndrome
- Joint health
- Help with mood disorders
- Support bone health
- Sexual health
17 Omega-3 fatty acids benefits
Sleeping better = living better, and it turns out getting enough omega-3 may help improve your sleep.
Low levels of omega-3 have been associated with sleep apnea in adults, sleep problems in children and lower levels of a hormone that helps you sleep called melatonin.1,2,3
One study found children who took an omega-3 supplement both slept for longer and woke up less during the night, and researchers think omega-3 could have similar effects on adults.
Omega-3 helps the body make substances involved with helping you fall asleep, such as the hormone melatonin.4
Keep skin hydrated
The omega-3 fatty acid DHA is also a major structural component of your skin, helping it to stay healthy. It supports the membranes of cells, which make up a large part of your skin.
When skin membranes are healthy, they appear softer, more supple and more hydrated.
The omega-3 EPA also helps to keep your skin hydrated by helping to manage its oil production.5
Soothe your skin
Plagued by eczema or psoriasis? Spanish scientists discovered taking omega-3 supplements, as well as using topical treatments, could help ease psoriasis.6
Another study found taking omega 3 supplements reduced the severity of eczema.
The omega-3 EPA can help to reduce premature ageing of the skin, as well as help protect your skin from sun damage.
This is because EPA helps to stop substances that eat away at skin collagen after sun exposure by blocking their release.7,8
Maintain normal blood pressure
Omega-3 fatty acids have also been found to help maintain normal blood pressure.
It’s thought they help blood vessels dilate, so the heart doesn’t need to push blood around the body so forcefully. This may be one of the reasons they’re linked with a lower risk of stroke.9
Keep forgetting where you put your keys? Research shows taking fish oil supplements for six months can sharpen your memory.
It’s thought the DHA found in omega-3 fatty acids helps nerve cells communicate better with each other.10
Keep your eyes healthy
The omega-3 DHA helps make up the retina of your eye (around 93% of all the omega-3 fatty acids in your retina is DHA) and the grey matter of the brain.
If you don’t get enough it could cause some problems for your vision.11,12,13
It could help slow down the degeneration of the retina, including macular degeneration – this is the most prevalent form of blindness in senior people.
Research suggests that while DHA cannot reverse damage of the retina, it may help to support healthy vision.14
Support growing brains
Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for the healthy growth of a baby’s brains and eyes during the third trimester and up until they reach 18 months of age.
Especially DHA, which makes up approximately 97% of omega-3 fatty acids in your brain.15
The British Nutrition Foundation recommends that pregnant women consume adequate omega-3, but there are a few restrictions on where they can get it from.
They advise pregnant women to eat oily fish in moderation with a maximum intake of 2 portions a week due to the potential pollutants that it contains.
However, they can also get their omega-3s from different sources, like products fortified with DHA like eggs.
Supplements are also fine, just as long as you check it is suitable for pregnant women and doesn’t contain high amounts of vitamin A.16
Do you get moody, tearful or anxious every month just before your period starts?
Omega-3 could help; research found taking a supplement could reduce the psychological signs of PMS, and may also help with bloating to breast tenderness.17
Support during menstruation
A lot of women experience discomfort when they are bleeding on their period, especially in the lower abdomen and pelvis, which can travel down to the thighs and lower back.
Multiple studies have been conducted that show that women who consume the most omega-3 tend to experience milder menstrual discomfort.18
Support heart health
The link between omega-3 fatty acids and how they can support heart health has been well studied.
In fact, people in countries where more oily fish is eaten, for example Greenland, Japan and the Mediterranean have less heart disease compared with countries with less oily fish consumption, like the UK.
EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids can help protect blood vessels and the heart from disease by helping to:19
- Improve blood flow around the body
- Keep your heart beating steadily
- Maintain normal blood pressure
- Maintain normal levels of triglycerides (fat that enters our blood after eating a meal)
Help with anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions, and it turns out omega-3 could play a part.
Anxiety is a condition that brings about feelings of constant nervousness and worry.
There are a few studies that suggest that omega-3 supplements can support those exhibiting signs of anxiety.22,23,24
Reduce ADHD symptoms in children
Did you know that 1 in 5 children worldwide have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can cause behavior issues like hyperactivity, excessive impulsivity and difficultly concentration / maintaining attention.
Although omega-3 is not in the NICE guidelines for ADHD treatment, there is an increasing amount of evidence that omega-3 may help those with ADHD.
Researchers at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience found that fish oil supplements can help with hyperactivity, inattention and other cognitive and behavioral patterns in children and adolescents with ADHD.26
Help with metabolic syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a name given to a collection of conditions including central obesity (belly fat), low HDL ‘good’ cholesterol, high triglyceride levels and insulin resistance.
All of which can increase your risk of other illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.
Some research around omega-3 supplementation and metabolic syndrome compared results in adults taking fish oil while taking part in a lifestyle modification programme and those just taking part in the programme with no fish oil.
The fish oil group showed a significant wait circumference reduction, reduced metabolic syndrome by 33.3%, and normalised blood pressure and triglyceride levels.28
Omega-3 from fish oil may help to keep joints supple. Higher levels of omeag-3 in our synovial fluid (the colourless, thick liquid that lubricated our joints) are associated with better joint heath.29
Help with mood disorders
Omega-3 has also been researched alongside other mood disorders and has revealed promising results for helping conditions like:
- Postpartum depression
- Bipolar disorder (manic depression) – mainly in the depressive phase
Omega-3s have also been positively linked to other psychiatric conditions, like:
- Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
However, more evidence is needed before omega-3 supplementation can be recommended in these conditions.30
Support bone health
Our bones and joints need adequate calcium levels to stay healthy.
Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids could help bones retain more calcium, which should lead to a reduced risk of conditions like osteoporosis.31,32
Omega-3 helps to form sex hormones in men and women, which could help improve sperm quality and sexual function.33
Omega-3 fish oil benefits
Getting your omega-3s from oily fish like salmon and trout or oily fish supplements gives you additional vitamins too.
Omega-3 fish oil provides the body with a full spectrum of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as extra vitamin D and vitamin A.
Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium to support our teeth, bones, cells and natural immunity.
Vitamin A promotes normal immune system function, eye health, skin health, and helps out body to use iron.
Omega-3 in salmon
When people think oily fish, their mind usually goes to salmon. But is salmon really a good source of omega-3?
Yes! 100g of cooked farmed Atlantic salmon contains roughly 2260 mg of omega-3.34
The Association of UK Dieticians recommend that you eat 1 portion of oily fish a week, so salmon would be a good choice.
Other oily fish high in omega-3s include:
Omega-3 for vegetarians & vegans
If you are vegetarian, vegan or simply don’t enjoy oily fish, don’t worry- there are some fish-free ways to get your omega-3 fatty acids.
Some of the best sources of omega-3 for vegans and vegetarians include:
- Chia seeds
- Pastured eggs
- Hemp seeds
- Dairy products
- Algal oil (what fish get their omega-3 from)
Is it good to take Omega 3 every day?
Omega-3 is an essential nutrient, which means that your body cannot make it by yourself.
So, whether you eat food sources of omega-3 or take a supplement, it’s essential that you make sure you get enough every week.
That may mean taking a supplement every day or eating a portion of oily fish 1-2 times per week.
Why Omega 3 is bad for you?
Omega-3 intake is healthy for most people and doesn’t seem to have many risk factors, especially if you take it through your diet.
However, eating more than 1-2 portions of oily fish a week could expose you to harmful pollutants, which is why pregnant women are told to limit their consumption.35
How long does it take for omega 3 to work?
Research suggests that it can take up to 3 months for regular omega-3 fatty acids to increase and improve levels in the brain and heart.36
Should I take omega-3 supplements?
If you feel like you don’t get enough omega-3 through food sources, then you may do better with an omega-3 supplement like cod liver oil or algae omega-3 capsules (for the vegans/vegetarians).