It has a plethora of benefits for both your brain and body, but what are the benefits of omega 3? These fatty acids have been highly studied – more than most nutrients – because they’re so beneficial to your health. The problem is that the sources of omega 3 fatty acids are often limited to nuts, seeds, and fish, although there are a few additional foods with omega 3 that can help you reach how much omega 3 per day is recommended for you. If you’re looking for a well-studied nutrient to consume in higher dosages, omega 3 should be on the top of your list due to the numerous benefits offered.
8 Must-Know Benefits of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
1. Improve Eye Health
DHA is a major component of your retina, and if you don’t have enough of this fatty acid in your diet, it can lead to vision problems. Omegas have been shown to provide a protective role against many neural and vascular retina issues, primarily issues related to:
Additional studies that examined macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness and eye damage, found that people at a lower risk when they consumed higher amounts of omega 3s. As people age, the risk of macular degeneration increases.
2. Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world, primarily heart attacks and strokes. A lot of factors play a role in heart health, including a healthy diet and exercise. Communities that ate higher amounts of fish, primarily in the Mediterranean, had lower risks of stroke and heart disease.
Studies eventually linked higher fish consumption to a decrease in heart disease.
General heart health is improved, too. Numerous heart health benefits have been linked to diets higher in omega 3 fatty acids, including but not limited to:
- Prevention of blood clots
- Lower blood pressure for people with high blood pressure
- Artery plaque reduction to help reduce the risks of hardening arteries
Triglyceride reduction, up to 30%, has been linked to diets higher in fatty acids. Higher HDL levels, the cholesterol that’s good for your heart, have also been noted. While these studies all show significant benefits of omega 3s for your heart, they cannot prevent a stroke or heart attack from occurring.
3. Combat Anxiety and Depression
Depression and anxiety are common disorders that most people will experience throughout their lives. People that experience these disorders will often experience a loss of interest in life, feel sad, and may even suffer from lethargy.
A 2014 study found that Westernized countries lack a diet rich in omega 3s, so supplements are recommended.
The same study, along with another study, show the potential for these fatty acids to fight depression and anxiety. The latter study showed significant efficacy in reducing depression due to the fatty acids acting like an antidepressant.
EPA, one of the three main omega 3s, seemed to be most effective at fighting depression.
4. Promote Brain Health, Especially in Early Life
The brain is comprised of 40% DHA fatty acids. When pregnant women consume adequate levels of omega 3s during pregnancy, this can benefit the child greatly. Studies found that higher levels of omega 3s in a woman's diet were able to help children with their:
- Communication skills
- Social skills
- Behavioral problems
- Lowered risks of autism and ADHD
- Reduced developmental delay
It's important for women to discuss supplementing their omega 3s when they’re pregnant. Some studies also suggest that infants that have fortified formula had better overall eyesight than those that did not have DHA-fortified formula as a part of their diets.
5. Fight Inflammation
Inflammation can be caused by an infection, disease, or injury, and it’s a natural response from the body that is beneficial. The problem is that when inflammation is not related to an injury or infection, it turns into chronic inflammation, which is not good.
Links between chronic inflammation, cancer, metabolic disease, and heart disease have been made. When taken in adequate amounts, omegas can help reduce the production of cytokines and other substances linked to inflammation.
6. Reduce ADHD Symptoms in Children
Children that suffer from hyperactivity or inattention may be able to reduce the symptoms of ADHD. Studies on children with ADHD found that these children have lower levels of fatty acids, creating a direct link to ADHD.
There have since been a lot of studies on the role of these fatty acids in treating ADHD. One study found that fish oil supplements may be an effective treatment for ADHD in children. Elimination diets, removing certain foods that may trigger symptoms along with adding in fish oil proved to be most beneficial.
More studies in this area are needed, but the initial studies are very promising for anyone that has issues with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
7. Reduce Risks of Alzheimer’s Disease and Age-Related Decline
Aging comes with the natural risk of age-related mental decline. One of the biggest concerns of seniors is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. While there’s no cure for these conditions yet, there are links between omega 3s and a reduction in Alzheimer’s disease.
One study found slowing cognitive decline when omega 3 and 6 fatty acids were introduced into a person’s diet. Another study on people with dementia noted a reduction in mental decline when supplementing with fatty acids.
Notably, these studies did not mention how much omega 3 per day any of the participants were taking. It's also important to note that one of the studies found that when the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease were very mild, supplementation was most effective.
If a person has severe symptoms of mental decline, the supplements will not be able to reverse the damage.
8. Lower the Risks of Certain Cancers
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, and omega 3s have been linked to a reduction in certain cancer risks. One study found that colon cancer risks fell up to 55%. There is also evidence (here and here) that omega 3s may reduce the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer.
How Much Omega 3 Per Day is Enough?
The studies previously mentioned vary the amount of omega 3s that participants consumed per day based on their desired outcomes. Recommendations vary from 250 mg to 6.5g per day or higher.
Most people will not require extremely high levels of omega 3s.
For general health, taking 250 mg to 500 mg per day of omega 3 will suffice. Even if you take a 1g supplement, you’ll often find that most of the content will be divided between EPA and DHA.
If you’re trying to mimic the results from the studies above, you may need to add additional sources of omega 3 to your diet or use a higher dosage supplement.
Foods with Omega 3
Omega 3 fatty acids are found naturally in many foods, but your diet may not contain many of these foods. The main foods that are a great source of omega 3s are:
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
Seafood is the primary source of fatty acids, with high levels being found in mackerel and salmon. Both of these fish contain over 4 grams of omega 3s in each serving, but there are other non-fish options that have a decent amount of omega 3s, including walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, and soybeans.
Adding omega 3s into your daily diet is recommended, but people that don’t like fish will often turn to supplements.
Cod liver oil is one supplement that is very popular due to its high level of omegas, but there are other options available, too. When you choose to supplement your intake, you’ll want to make sure that the source of the supplement is high quality.
The absorption rates of some supplements are lower than others. Ethyl esters, from reformed triglycerides, are often not as well absorbed as supplements from whole fish or fish oil. There are other studies suggesting that ethyl ester absorption rates are similar to other supplements, so you’ll need to use your best judgment here.
The high processing of the ethyl esters is the main reason for concerns about the absorption rate.
Consuming omega 3s has been shown to boost brain and heart health. Whether you decide to take a supplement or add some of the key omega 3-rich foods into your diet, you’ll be boosting your health.
If you need to consume high levels of these fatty acids, it may be beneficial to take a supplement if fish isn’t a major part of your diet.