9 incredible health benefits of omega 3


Emma Thornton
Qualified Nutritionist (ANutr)
@EmmaThornton
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20 April 2018

1 – Omega 3 for eye health

When you think of omega 3 fatty acids, the chances are your mind will immediately turn to brain function, heart health or possibly your muscles and joints. While it’s certainly true that omega 3 can be very beneficial for all of these, I think it’s also worth highlighting the vital role that omega 3 plays in supporting our eye health.

Did you know, for example, that DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a type of omega 3 fatty acid, is a key structural component of your retina, the part of your eye that is needed for visual recognition. Therefore, if you’re not getting the right intake of omega 3 in your diet, it may have a knock on effect on your vision!1

 

Interestingly, one study specifically took a look at the role omega 3 could potentially play in age-related macular degeneration (AMD). They found that sufferers of AMD also displayed lower levels of DHA, as well as another type of omega 3 fatty acid, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), providing further evidence of the relationship between omega 3 and your vision.  

Increasing your intake of omega 3 could be very beneficial in these instances, but sometimes this can present a problem if you have certain dietary restrictions. That’s why I’d recommend reading my blog, ‘What are omega fatty acids?’ which goes into further detail about plant-based sources of omega 3.

2 – Omega 3 for inflammation

Inflammation forms an important part of your immune response, however, it also lays at the root of many health problems, from certain types of cardiovascular disease to fibromyalgia and arthritis. Primarily, short-term inflammation can support your immune system, protecting it against the nasty bugs and viral infections trying to penetrate your body, even helping damaged tissues to heal.

Problems occur when inflammation becomes chronic or long-term, either as the result of stress, an autoimmune condition, or other diet and lifestyle factors. When this happens, your immune cells can sometimes start to attack your tissues, leading to degeneration and swelling.

As we shall explore, many of omega 3’s benefits stem from its anti-inflammatory action. It’s thought that omega 3 can help to reduce inflammation by dampening your inflammatory reactions, reducing your levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and eicosanoids.2   

However, it’s possible that your ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids could also play a role too. As I discussed in my blog, ‘What are omega fatty acids?’ omega 6 fatty acids, like omega 3 are vital for a number of bodily functions and certain types of omega 6, such as GLA, can even help to reduce inflammation.

Unfortunately, problems can occur when we consume too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3. Since omega 6 is readily available in sources such as vegetable oils and processed foods like margarine, quite often this imbalance can trigger inflammation. Ideally you should be aiming for a 4:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3. 

3 – Omega 3 for muscle and joint health

The anti-inflammatory properties of omega 3 can do wonders when it comes to your muscles and joints, helping to maintain your mobility, particularly as you get older. This is because as we age our production of cartilage, the connective tissues that help to cushion your joints, diminishes leaving you more vulnerable to joint pain and inflammation.

  

As mentioned, omega 3 can help by reducing inflammation but now research is indicating that omega 3 can also plays a role when it comes to calcium too. Calcium is essential for strong healthy bones but it does rely on several other nutrients to be properly absorbed and utilised by your body. Fortunately, omega 3 fatty acids can help to enhance calcium absorption which can increase the amount of calcium in your bones, optimising their strength and reducing your risk of developing a condition like osteoporosis.3  

4 – Omega 3 for sleep

The relationship between omega 3 and sleep has only recently gained some attention in the public eye and our sleep advisor Marianna goes more into detail about it in her blog, ‘Can omega 3 help to improve your sleep?’ In this blog she details the importance of omega 3 when it comes to release of melatonin, the sleep hormone, not to mention how omega 3 fatty acids can regulate your levels of stress hormones like norepinephrine!

5 – Omega 3 for skin

Your skin is your body’s largest organ and it relies on a delicate balance of nutrients to function optimally. Unfortunately, your skin can become damaged when it becomes exposed to environmental stressors, allergens and toxins. These can weaken your epidermis (your outer layer of skin) resulting in flare-ups, dryness and irritation.

Omega 3 supports your skin membranes, helping to repair any damaged cells or tissues, enhancing the strength of your epidermis so pathogens and allergens find it less easy to penetrate. Its anti-inflammatory properties also work to reduce swelling and, since inflammation can be a major trigger for skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis, it’s believed that omega 3 can play a role in helping these conditions.

In fact, studies have found that skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis can sometimes be linked to low levels of DHA and EPA. One study even found that fish oil supplements were able to significantly reduce the symptoms of eczema after 12 weeks. This was mainly due to its ability to reduce leukotriene B4, which can help to stimulate an eczema outbreak.4 

Impressive! If you want to learn more about how you can support your skin health through your diet, I’d highly recommend checking out our diet pages for skin!

6 – Omega 3 for healthy brain function

Arguably one of omega 3’s main claims to fame is its ability to help support healthy brain function. For a start did you know that your brain is mostly fat? In fact it’s around 60% fat making it the fattest organ in your body!5 Of course this isn’t the type of fat you get from eating too many packets of crisps – instead your brain and cell membranes are made of healthy fats, sometimes known as essential fats.

Omega 3 fatty acids are in fact considered to be an important building block of your brain, so it’s hardly surprising that this nutrient is so often linked with brain function. As a natural anti-inflammatory, it can help to reduce inflammation in the brain, which can disrupt crucial brain signals, but research has also indicated that omega 3 could be useful for mild memory loss.  

While omega 3 can’t do anything to treat dementia or Alzheimer’s, studies did find that senior citizens that had higher levels of omega 3 had a lower risk of developing dementia.6  It’s also thought that the nutrient may be useful for milder age-related cognitive decline. One study, involving 485 participants suffering from age-related cognitive decline, found that, after 24 weeks, those taking DHA performed better on memory and learning tests compared to the placebo group.7 

7 – Omega 3 for your mood

Just as omega 3 is thought to be beneficial for healthy brain function so too is it often associated with your mood, particularly when it comes to negative emotions such as stress and anxiety. This is mainly down to the action of EPA, an omega 3 fatty acid that can influence cortisol, the stress hormone. 

In a study conducted by researchers from the University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, it was found that EPA, on its own and in combination with fluoxetine, was capable of reducing cortisol levels.8  Another study, this time involving medical students facing pre-exam stress, found that omega 3 supplements were able to reduce anxiety by up to 20%!9 

So perhaps increasing your omega 3 could be a good idea if you’re looking to enhance your mood. It’s also worth noting that some studies have been done in relation to more serious mental health conditions, such as depression, and omega 3. Although research has yielded positive results, further study is still needed10 so, if you are suffering from a health condition such as depression, it’s still important to speak to your doctor or GP.

8 – Omega 3 for a stronger immune system

Your immune system is one of the most important and complex systems in your body, consisting of lymph nodes and white blood cells that work tirelessly to discourage viruses, pathogens and bacteria from entering your body, protecting you from a range of infections and diseases such as the flu and common cold.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, omega 3 almost appears to suppress the immune system as it can dampen your inflammatory responses, which are sometimes triggered by your immune system as a reaction to an allergen or pathogen. However, research published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology also appears to support this belief, finding that EPA and DHA fish oil may actually help to enhance the function of immune B cells too!11 

B-cells are a type of white blood cell that helps to secrete antibodies, helping to fight off infections and viruses! The stronger these cells are, the better prepared your body is when pathogens strike!

9 – Omega 3 for your heart

This is one health benefit that can go uncontested – there’s no doubt that omega 3 can really do wonders for your heart. The American Heart Association even states that “Omega 3 fatty acids benefit the heart of healthy people, and those at high risk of – or who have – cardiovascular disease.” 12 

But why? Well once again, unsurprisingly, the anti-inflammatory properties of omega 3 have to take some of the credit. Not only can inflammation upset your muscles, joints and skin, it can also damage your blood vessels which can then potentially lead to further cardiovascular problems.

Omega 3 had also been shown to have to help lower triglycerides, or unhealthy fats, that could potentially lead to fatty deposits in the artery walls, increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke! That’s why many, including the British Heart Foundation, recommend increasing your intake of omega 3 to help support the health of your heart.13  

How much omega 3 should I be getting?

It’s all very well saying that you should increase your intake of omega 3 fatty acids, but how much omega 3 specifically should you be getting? Some sources estimate that between 250 – 500 mg of EPA and DHA is a healthy intake for an adult, although this dose can increase depending on your specific health problem so it’s always worth speaking to your doctor first, before considering a supplement.14 

The NHS recommends trying to get at least two portions of oily fish into your diet each week but this isn’t particularly useful if you happen to be vegan or vegetarian. That’s why it’s always worth exploring plant-based options too, as I mentioned earlier, my blog ‘What are omega fatty acids?’ goes into a bit more detail about this. 

Interestingly, since omega 3 has entered the public consciousness another problem has arisen – over supplementing. Just as not getting enough omega 3 can have repercussions for your health, getting too much can also have a negative impact, particularly for your immune system. That’s why, if you are considering an omega 3 supplement such as fish oil, make sure you pick one that does not exceed 3g per day without first speaking to your doctor!15  

1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24557349

2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15698426

3https://www.livestrong.com/article/520529-fish-oil-and-calcium/

4https://draxe.com/fish-oil-benefits-health/

5https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/01/22/fascinating-facts-you-never-knew-about-the-human-brain.aspx

6https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061113180236.htm

7https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20434961

8https://www.livestrong.com/article/377571-walnut-oil-omega-3/

9https://bebrainfit.com/omega-3-fats-brain-benefits/

10https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/fish-oil-supplements/faq-20058143

11https://www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2013/04/02/Omega-3-backed-to-boost-immune-health-not-just-battle-inflammation

12http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/General/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp#.WtYRKHrwbIU

13https://www.bhf.org.uk/news-from-the-bhf/news-archive/2016/june/omega-3-may-cut-chances-of-dying-from-a-heart-attack

14https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/01/04/how-much-omega-3.aspx

15https://www.livestrong.com/article/361033-is-too-much-omega-3-bad-for-you/

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