You may have heard about Omega-3 fatty acids before but you may not quite understand what it is or why we need it. Omega-3 is an essential fat the body is incapable of making naturally. That means that we have to get it from the foods and supplements that we put into our body.
Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fat, which basically means that it is one of the “good fats”. Polyunsaturated fats are natural and healthy whereas saturated fats or “bad fats” are found in highly processed foods and can lead to unfavorable health complications when consumed in large amounts and over a long period of time.
Omega-3 is important for quite a few reasons, some of which being;
Regulation of blood clotting
Boosting artery wall relaxation and contraction
Strengthening of cell membranes
Normalizing the speed at which your heart beats
Brain development and growth
And that’s just the beginning. If you’re not reaching for a plate of salmon just yet, you will be after this list!
More people in The United States are affected by Anxiety disorders than any other mental health disease. Statistics show that over 40 million adults in America are living with Anxiety. That’s over 18 percent of the population (1).
Anxiety disorders are not always easy to diagnose because it can affect different people in different ways. Symptoms of Anxiety can be mental and physical and are at some times debilitating. The most common symptoms are feelings of dread and panic, heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, feelings of disassociation with reality, sweating, chest pains and nausea (2).
There is not always a trigger leading up to an anxiety or panic attack which is one reason why the disorder is so difficult to live with. While medication is widely available and information on coping mechanisms are easy to find, some people prefer a natural remedy.
An Ohio study on the effect of Omega-3 on cytokine production in the brain yielded a surprising side effect of the intake of Omega-3 fatty acids by a group of medical students. The students taking the Omega-3 supplement showed a marked reduction in stress and anxiety when compared to the students who received the placebos (3).
The chemical responsible for regulating our moods and therefore our levels of anxiety is called Serotonin. It’s Serotonin’s job to transmit messages from neuron to neuron, but when our cell membranes don’t get enough Omega-3 the Serotonin is blocked (4).
A regular intake of Omega-3 fatty acids strengthen the cell membranes, which in turn boosts the performance of Serotonin which prevents anxiety (5).
Omega-3 fatty acids are so beneficial to the development of strong, healthy eyes that many baby formula companies add it to their formula (6). Omega-3 is recommended for pregnant women for the same reason.
Omega-3 is made up of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DPA). DPA is found naturally in the retina and its presence there is said to keep it healthy and functioning. Omega-3 can also be used to combat dry eye syndrome, a disorder where your eyes do not produce enough moisture resulting in itchy eyes accompanied by a burning sensation (7).
Numerous studies carried out on infants and adults and the results have shown visual acuity improvement to be undoubtedly linked with an increase of Omega-3 consumption.
It is estimated that nearly 10 percent of women in The United States struggle to conceive naturally and or carry a baby to term (8), and this number only increases as women get older.
While battling infertility is a complicated and often expensive process, one thing that you can do to help is to increase your daily intake of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Balance irregular menstrual cycles
Enhance blood flow into the uterus, boosting the development of your uterine lining
Enhance the naturally produced cervical mucus which helps sperm reach and fertilize eggs
Curtails inflammation in the uterus (9)
Inflammation in the uterus can be aggravated by Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). PID is an infection in your fallopian tubes, womb and ovaries. Symptoms include; pain during vaginal intercourse, unusual bleeding, nausea, back pain and fever. If you do not receive treatment, the infection could result in blockages and adhesions in your fallopian tubes (10). It is recommended to couple medication with Omega-3 to speed up the reduction of inflammation (11).
Omega-3 fatty acids also have important fertility benefits for men. It plays a part in the level of sperm production and increases blood flow which aids in circulation to a man’s genitals (12).
When it comes to maintaining a healthy complexion and treating skin conditions, what you put into your body may be more important than what you put on your face.
A diet that includes Omega-3 fatty acids can be very beneficial in fighting and reducing oily skin, acne, psoriasis and eczema, to name a few. This is because the fatty acids work to keep cell membranes healthy. When your cell membranes are healthy they efficient in acting as barriers to any harmful substances, while still allowing nutrients into the cells and waste to pass out of the cells (13).
A healthy cell membrane also allows cells to hold more water, resulting in hydrated and healthy looking skin.
When suffering from acne, you may experience a painful redness and swelling. This caused by inflammation in the skin. Omega-3 is a natural anti inflammatory (14).
Possibly the most important reason to take Omega-3 fatty acids is for your heart health. Omega-3 offers a myriad of positive and healing effects when it comes to blood pressure and heart disease. Doctors recommend eating at least two portions of omega-3 rich fish per week for the heart healthy benefits (15).
Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated, which is the healthy natural fat as opposed to saturated fats which is what you find in highly processed foods. Switching out saturated fats for omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids will lower your cholesterol levels (16).
Inflammation can be a culprit in blood vessel damage and an increased risk of strokes. The anti inflammatory properties of Omega-3 work to counter this damage.
Atherosclerotic plaque is the calcification of arteries. It occurs when there is a buildup of plaque within the arteries. The plaque is formed from cholesterol, waste from cells and excess calcium. As more and more plaque collects in the arteries, it starts to cut off the flow of blood to the rest of the body and may result in angina, heart disease and kidney disease. If a clot of plaque dislodges, it may result in a heart attack or stroke (17).
Triglycerides in Omega-3 stabilize the process of atherosclerotic plaque buildup (18).
Menstruation is different for every woman, but many women experience uterine cramping, nausea, back pain and more on a monthly basis.
A Danish study investigated the effects of Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin B12 in relation to menstrual symptoms and found that they do in fact provide relief (19).
A separate study showed that a group of women who suffered from extreme menstrual cramping, or dysmenorrhea, reported a definite decrease in pain after taking an Omega-3 capsule daily for three months.
The reason for these soothing effects seems to be linked to the anti-inflammatory properties of Omega-3 fatty acids, as the lining of the uterus may become inflamed during menstruation.
About 30 percent of adults in America have what is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD occurs when there is a buildup of fat within the liver. Some people experience fat in the liver as well as inflammation, this is known as NASH (20). When there is fat and inflammation it can lead to fibrosis, or scarring of the liver, and if left untreated could eventually turn into cirrhosis of the liver.
Some of the symptoms of NAFLD/NASH include but are not limited to;
A reddish colour in the palms of your hands
Swelling in the abdomen
Engorged breasts in males
Inflated, visible blood vessels under the skin
Yellow coloration of the eyes and skin
Some causes of NAFLD and NASH are obesity, lipodystrophy (a disorder to do with fat storage) and diabetes. Some medicines are also to blame for the development of the disease (21).
Omega-3 fatty acids are used to treat NAFLD and NASH because of all the benefits it has when it comes to cardiovascular disease and inflammation. A study on the full scope of potential benefits of Omega-3 on this disease is currently under way (22).
Whenever you eat something, specifically carbohydrates, glucose is released into the body. The presence of glucose in turn spurs on the production of insulin. Some people suffer from insulin resistance which is a pathological (in the blood) condition where cells within the body do not respond to insulin in the way they should.
The number one way to improve your insulin sensitivity is through regular exercise and weight loss. Tied in with weight loss is a healthy diet.
Foods high in Omega-3 are recommended for improving insulin sensitivity, with multiple studies being currently carried out on rodents and humans to establish to entire scope of benefits offered (23).
You develop high cholesterol as a result of having too many triglycerides, or too much fat, in the blood. Eating a large amount of saturated fats, smoking, stress, diabetes and consuming alcohol has also been linked to having high cholesterol. On the whole, it is a dangerous byproduct of leading an unhealthy lifestyle (24).
Steady high levels of cholesterol in the body may result in atherosclerosis.This is when cholesterol and other debris start to build up in your arteries and can cause a fatal heart attack or stroke if it comes unstuck, or blocks an artery entirely.
Introducing Omega-3 into the body helps balance the level of triglycerides and actively lowering the level of triglycerides most recently ingested (25).
Taking Omega-3 supplements or including Omega-3 dense foods in your diet during pregnancy is not only good for the expecting mother, but for the baby too!
In fact, it is recommended that pregnant women and breastfeeding women get at least 500 mgs of Omega-3 a day. Pregnant and lactating women should be getting their Omega-3 from supplements as well as through their diets (26).
The DHA in Omega-3 fatty acids support brain growth as well as the development of the eyes and nervous system, which is particularly important during foetal growth. Omega-3 is crucial to the development of a foetus’ nervous system. The EPA in Omega-3 is good for the heart and immune system.
The benefits of Omega-3 for babies continues after birth and is often prescribed to women who are breast feeding, as it boosts the development of breast milk (27).
When you are injured in some way, may you have an infected wound or a splinter, you will notice the skin around your injury puff up and become warm and red. This is inflammation at work. Inflammation is your immune system working to correct a problem within your body.
Chemicals originating in white blood cells are released and make their way to the wounded or infected area in the body. The problem is that sometimes too much of this chemical is produced. When that happens, inflammation starts to affect healthy tissue (28).
Inflammation can sometimes even dangerously affect your organs. This usually happen as result of an autoimmune disease. The organs most likely to be affected are the kidneys, lungs and heart. Some signs to look out for are;
Shortness of breath
Omega-3 is good for countering excess inflammation, especially when coupled with certain anti inflammatory medications.
Diet can be very beneficial when it comes to avoiding excess inflammation. Some foods to avoid are Omega-6 rich foods, highly processed carbohydrates and high-sugar foods.
A lack of sleep, regular exercise and high levels of stress can also negatively contribute to excess inflammation (29).
An autoimmune disease is an illness where your immune system mistakes healthy cells for foreign cells. It then begins to attack the healthy cells. This action can result in any of a number of autoimmune related diseases. Some signs that your immune system is not working the way it should include;
Joint and or muscle pain
Intolerance to heat
Sudden weight loss
Rapid heart beat
Severe abdominal pain and blood present in stool
Arthritis, multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis and lupus are a few of the autoimmune diseases that Omega-3 fatty acids can help soothe.
Omega-3 fatty acids have the biggest impact on autoimmune diseases of all fatty acids available. Studies have shown the taking Omega-3 alleviates pain and inflammation related to autoimmune disease and has in some cases lessened the amount of medication patients needed.
Autoimmune hepatitis is a condition where the liver becomes inflamed. It can be caused by alcohol abuse, excess fat in the liver or contracting the hepatitis C or B virus. When your liver becomes infected and inflamed your body will start to produce prostaglandin I and !! which send white blood cells to the infected liver and decrease inflammation. Omega-3 is key in prostaglandin I production (30).
Taking fish oil supplements are recommended for the most effective results when using Omega-3 to fight autoimmune diseases (31).
A recent study involving nearly 400 children between the ages of seven and nine has shown that Omega-3 fatty acids can have a huge impact on getting a good night’s rest (28). Children who received the Omega-3 supplements slept on average for over an hour longer and had far fewer sleep disturbances than the children who received the placebo.
Studies on the full scope of Omega-3 for sleep patterns in adults are under way.
The DHA in Omega-3 spurs on the release of higher levels of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for regulating sleep.
Maintaining a regular sleep pattern is crucial for adults and children alike. When you are asleep, your brain repairs and regenerates your neurotransmitters, which is how cells in your brain communicate.
Getting enough sleep also helps balance weight (children who get less sleep are often overweight and at risk for diabetes), promotes growth and protects against vascular damage which is caused by the circulation of stress hormones.
It is recommended to eat at least two servings of fatty fish such as salmon, tuna or swordfish a week to help regulate your sleep cycle through Omega-3 (32).
ADHD, or attention hyperactivity disorder, is a chronic condition where neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) fail to send signals between nerve cells. Dopamine, the chemical responsible for concentration, is mostly affected by ADHD.
Nearly 6 percent of school going aged children are said to suffer from ADHD. ADHD is usually diagnosed during childhood but that persists into adulthood. While symptoms do sometimes change as a person matures, the effects of ADHD can be lifelong.
Children with ADHD (either the inattentive-type or hyperactive-type) are often viewed as simply misbehaving, when in reality a lot of children will need the help of medication in order to be able to focus.
Children who exhibit any of these signs may be living with ADHD;
Very easily distracted
Always moving or squirming when seated
Loses things regularly
Always running around and climbing things
Has trouble completing tasks
Interrupts people often
A study on the effect of Omega-3 was carried out in The Netherlands on a group of young boys diagnosed with ADHD. The boys consumed Omega-3 enriched foods every day for sixteen weeks. At the end of the trial the boys’ parents reported a marked reduction in attention problems (33).
Many times however, children go undiagnosed and grow up still unaware of their condition. About 60 percent of children with ADHD will still have ADHD as adults. Symptoms of ADHD in adults can be a little different;
Difficulty in initiating tasks
Very poor time management and task handling
Impatient and very easily bored
Hyperfocusing on certain tasks
Omega-3 fatty acids are so beneficial in treating ADHD in children and adults because in an ADHD affected brain, nerve cells block the flow of dopamine and the chief component of these nerve cells are fatty acids.
Adult males that took part in a study testing Omega-3 fatty acids on adult ADHD in Italy reported an increase in attention span and a decrease in general moodiness (34).
Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition caused by inflammation and narrowing of the airways and bronchospasms (when the muscle walls of the bronchioles suddenly contract) . Chest tightness, wheezing, a whistling sound when breathing, shortness of breath and coughing are all characteristics of asthma.
When you have asthma your airways are constantly inflamed. When the walls of your airways become swollen, muscles tighten and trigger an onset of symptoms.
You can also have allergic asthma or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. The former is asthma symptoms brought on by an allergic reaction to pollen and the latter is brought on by physical exercise (35).
The inflammation that causes asthma can be brought on by ingesting too much Omega-6. Omega-3 fatty acids work to minimize the inflammation in the airways, thus reducing symptoms.
A Western diet can be saturated with Omega-6 rich food (vegetable oils, margarine, pork products and mayonnaise) so we must be mindful to include Omega-3 full foods.