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Do You Have Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids For Good Health? Discover How To Identify Low Omega 3 Symptoms

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Do You Have Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids For Good Health? Discover How To Identify Low Omega 3 Symptoms about Advanced Brain Power

Are you feeling forgetful, moody, or struggling with joint pain? These could be signs that you're not getting enough of a crucial nutrient - omega-3 fatty acids. In our modern world of processed foods and hectic lifestyles, many unknowingly starve our bodies of these essential fats. But fear not! This article will dive into the world of omega-3s, revealing why they're so vital for your health and how to spot the sneaky symptoms of deficiency.

From boosting brain power to fighting inflammation, discover why omega-3s might be the missing piece in your wellness puzzle.

Ready to unlock the secrets of these powerful nutrients? Let's dive in!

Key Takeaways

  • Omega-3 essential fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that you need to get from your diet and are critical for brain health from fetal development through death. They affect mood, memory, eyes, metabolic function, and more.[1]
  • Most people eating a standard American diet have too many omega-6s and low omega-3s, which contributes to the epidemic of mood problems, mental health problems, and dementia we see today. The ideal balance between omega-6s and omega-3s is 1:1.[2]
  • Omega-3s should be on balance with inflammatory omega-6s (in processed foods) for best health and healthy aging.[3]

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 essential fatty acids are a key component of your cell membranes, without which cells can't function properly. Omega-3s also form signaling molecules that transmit messages to various organs that run various bodily functions.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated essential fatty acid. "Essential" means you must get them from your diet... your body can't make them on its own. Yet most Americans get hardly any omega-3 fatty acids and get too many omega-6s. Both can have dire health implications. Ideally, we want to strike a balance between omega-3s and omega-6s, which for almost everyone means more omega-3s and fewer omega-6s (found in nearly all processed foods).

Three Main Types of Omega-3s

Not all omega-3s are created equal! These essential fatty acids come in three distinct flavors, each with its own unique role in your body's symphony of health. From brain-boosting DHA to inflammation-fighting EPA, and the plant-based precursor ALA, understanding these omega-3 varieties is key to optimizing your nutrition. Let's explore the power-packed trio that could revolutionize your health and well-being when you understand how they can benefit your body:

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

DHA is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid, which means it has a more complex molecular structure than some other types of omega-3s. It's found mainly in marine oils, including krill oil, fish oil, salmon, mackerel, and shellfish. Your body can use DHA directly, without needing to convert it from other forms of omega-3s.

DHA is especially important for the brain. In fact, 40 percent of the brain's neuron tissues are DHA... especially in gray matter. Beyond brain health, DHA is important for:

  • Eye Health and Clear Vision
  • Brain Health and a Sharp Memory
  • Reducing Inflammation

DHA is an essential nutrient because your body can't produce DHA on its own in significant amounts, so it must be obtained through diet or supplements.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

EPA, or Eicosapentaenoic acid, is another crucial omega-3 fatty acid. EPA plays a vital role in maintaining the structural integrity of cell membranes throughout the body. EPA is also found in marine oils such as fish oil, fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, as well as algae. EPA is known for:

  • Fighting Inflammation: It's particularly known for its potent anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Promoting Cardiovascular Health: EPA is especially beneficial for heart health, helping support healthy triglycerides and potentially lowering the risk of cardiovascular events.
  • Supporting Mental Health: Some studies suggest EPA may be particularly effective in supporting mental health, including mood disorders.

While both EPA and DHA are important, they have slightly different roles in the body. EPA is often highlighted for its anti-inflammatory effects, while DHA is crucial for brain and eye health. Many health experts recommend getting a balance of both EPA and DHA for optimal health benefits. EPA can be used directly by the body without needing conversion.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

ALA is the third essential omega-3 fatty acid that plays a crucial role in human health. It is found mainly in plant oils including flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and certain vegetable oils such as flaxseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil.

Health benefits include:

  • Promoting Heart Health: ALA can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol levels, reducing blood pressure, and decreasing inflammation.
  • Supporting Clear Memory: ALA is important for brain function and development and may help protect against cognitive decline and improve mental health.
  • Acting As An Anti-Inflammatory: ALA has anti-inflammatory properties, which can be beneficial in managing conditions like arthritis.

Your body can convert ALA into other omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), although this process is not very efficient. Therefore, it is also important to consume other sources of EPA and DHA directly, such as fatty fish or fish oil supplements.

Why Omega 3-Fatty Acids Are Critical To Health

Whether you're concerned about cognitive decline, joint pain, or simply want to age gracefully, understanding the far-reaching impact of omega-3s could be the key to unlocking a healthier, more vibrant you. Let's take a look at the science-backed benefits that make omega-3s a true cornerstone of optimal health.

Sharpen Brain and Balance Mood Swings

Omega-3s are critical for normal brain function through all stages of life. Studies have confirmed its high importance from fetal development throughout life. Animals fed diets low in omega-3s tend to have memory and learning problems.

In older adults, insufficient omega-3s are linked to smaller brain size, accelerated brain aging, dementia, and Alzheimer's. Studies have suggested that omega-3s can sharpen memory in many of those suffering from memory loss.

One study gave 485 adults with memory loss 900 mg of DHA or placebo for 24 weeks. Those getting the DHA performed better on memory and learning tests. A different study administered 1.8 grams of omega-3 fish oil for 24 weeks. They saw improvements for those with mild memory loss but not for those with severe memory loss.

The take-away here seems to be to start taking omega-3 fish oils now. You know what they say about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. Omega-3s are included in Green Valley's Brain Vitality Plus supplement to support your brain health and memory function.

Ease Pain and Fight Inflammation

As you age, you may notice an increase in joint pain or stiffness. But it's not a bygone conclusion that you will. Some studies have shown that omega-3 supplements may help with joint health and discomfort, although more studies are needed.[3]

There's also high-level evidence that omega-3 deficiency plays a role in worsening joint pain-- especially when chronic inflammation is involved.[4]

Improve Heart Health

The jury may still be out on omega-3 benefits for all aspects of heart health. But it does have clear benefits for some things.

A 2017 study showed an 59 mg/dL point reduction in triglycerides for those taking two grams/day of omega-3s, compared to a smaller drop in those taking one gram/day of 43/mg/dL. Both were better than the placebo group. High triglycerides may lead to hardening of the arteries and thickening of the artery walls.[12]

It took only one gram of omega-3s to support healthy blood pressure in women who struggled with both their blood sugar and blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic.[13]

Increase Vision Health

Taking fish oil supplements may preserve your vision, according to studies, specifically protecting against the leading causes of blindness. A 2012 study published in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science found that DHA could protect against age-related vision loss in animals. And they said it likely applied to humans, too.[9]

During one animal study, rats were fed high-omega-3 safflower, flax seed, and tuna oil. That diet helped regulate the inner eye fluid pressure level which is critical for clear vision. Weirdly, the rats fed only safflower (high in ALA, but not DHA or EPA) didn't fare nearly as well as those given the three-oil combo.

Another study showed that those who ate oily fish at least once per week had half the risk of vision loss over those who ate fish less than once per week. Interestingly, the followup study to the AREDS study called AREDS2 did not show a reduced risk of vision loss by supplementing 1000 mg of omega-3s over the course of 12 years.

Perhaps it's because fish oil supplements are not standardized. Just because one study didn't prove a benefit doesn't necessarily mean there is no benefit. It only means there was zero or little benefit in that study. Whether it's because of the quality of their study supplement, it's hard to tell.

Promote a Healthy Metabolism

Omega-3s may help promote a healthy metabolism. Intervention with omega-3s may help moderately obese people with blood sugar challenges lower their HbA1c over the course of 24 weeks, along with a high-protein, low-glycemic diet. This diet also decreased waist circumference and reduced inflammation.

A similar study assigned people to one of four groups -- high-carb, low-carb, omega-3 supplemented, and low-carb omega-3 supplemented. The people assigned to omega-3 supplements received six grams of fish oil per day. Only the high carb group failed to lower their HbA1c and fasting blood sugar. Those in the low-carb plus omega-3 group saw the biggest improvement in glucose control.

A 2014 study found that four grams per day of omega-3s improved insulin sensitivity in those with blood sugar challenges.[10]

Fight Aging

Omega-3 fatty acids are powerful allies in the fight against aging, offering a multifaceted approach to maintaining health and longevity. By addressing multiple aspects of health simultaneously, from cardiovascular to cognitive and cellular well-being, omega-3 fatty acids offer a comprehensive strategy for healthy aging and improved longevity.

They contribute to joint health, vision protection, and metabolic regulation, which are crucial for maintaining independence and quality of life as we age. Additionally, omega-3s promote skin health and support overall cellular function, potentially slowing the aging process at its root.

Are You Deficient? 5 Signs You May Be...

Are you feeling down, achy, or just not quite yourself? From mood swings to dry skin, joint pain to memory issues, the signs of omega-3 deficiency can be subtle. Discover the telltale signs of omega-3 deficiency and how addressing the common omega-3 fatty acid shortfall could transform your health from the inside out.

Low Omega-3 Symptoms

  • Depression, mental health problems, and mood swings. Many studies show a correlation between low omega 3 status, brain health, and a higher incidence of depression. [1] A different systematic review of 6 studies with 4,605 participants concluded that an average intake of 1.3 grams of omega 3s daily reduced mild-to-moderate depression symptoms among adults over age 65.[2]
  • Joint pain and stiffness. Inflammation is a common cause of joint pain. Omega-3s can help reduce inflammation. Therefore, joint pain could be a sign that you have an omega-3 insufficiency.
  • Dry skin. If you have omega 3 deficiency, skin dryness is one of the first places you may notice a deficiency. Some research has shown that omega-3s help reduce acne breakouts, possibly via their anti-inflammatory effects. For the dry skin, one study gave women a daily dose of 1/2 teaspoon of ALA-rich flaxseed oil for 90 days. The women in that group decreased skin roughness and improved hydration by nearly 40%, compared to the placebo group.[6]
  • Brain fog and poor memory. Your brain is about 60% fat, and it desperately needs omega-3 fatty acids. Without sufficient omega-3s, your brain will struggle to function well. Brain fog or memory problems may indicate deficiency.
  • Brittle hair, hair loss, brittle nails. Hair relies on omega-3s for strength. So if you have an omega-3 insufficiency, you may struggle with dry, brittle, easily broken hair.
  • Fatigue and trouble sleeping. Sleep problems can have many sources, but an omega-3 deficiency may be one culprit. Boosting omega-3 levels may help resolve some or all of your sleep issues.

Recommended Intakes

How much omega-3 you should take depends largely on whom you ask, since the USDA, British, and Australian government recommended levels are all different. But in general, experts recommended at least 250 to 500 mg of EPA and/or DHA per day. Try to eat a balanced diet including fatty fish at least once per week, as well as supplementing. As noted above, some studies used four to six grams of EPA/DHA. It's well-established that humans cannot synthesize ALA, so it's imperative that your EPA and DHA be sufficient.

A good way to know whether you're getting enough omega-3s is to get your levels measured with a blood test. Fish oil supplements appear to contain hardly any mercury, alleviating concern about certain types of fish oil.

It's not clear whether fish oil is safe for those with fish allergies. Speak with your healthcare provider if you are taking blood thinners or blood pressure drugs, as omega-3s affect synthesis of those medications.

Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Plant Sources (ALA)

The best plant sources of ALA omega-3s are chia seeds, flax seeds, Brussels sprouts, algal oil (from algae), walnuts (65 percent fatty acids by weight), pumpkin seeds, and olive oil. If you balk at the "plainness" of these items, try making the chia seeds into chia pudding, adding bacon and/or onions to Brussels sprouts, a Tablespoon of olive oil plus your favorite seasoning to walnuts or pumpkin seeds and lightly roast them, and use olive oil as a salad dressing.

Vegetarians and vegans often have DHA deficiencies and should supplement with microalgae to ensure that they have enough for their body's needs.

Animal Sources (EPA and DHA)

The best animal sources of EPA and DHA are fatty fish such as salmon, trout, and mackerel, and also fish oils including krill oil and salmon oil. It's challenging to get enough EPA and DHA without eating fatty fish.

Eating More Omega-3s: Omega-3-Rich Diets

Including fatty fish, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and Brussels sprouts in your dietary rotation at least once a week is important in order to supply your omega-3 needs. It's also smart to take an omega-3 supplement.

Summary

The three main types of omega-3s: DHA, EPA, and ALA, contribute to brain function, mood regulation, heart health, vision health, metabolism, and cellular health. It's important to balance omega-3 and omega-6 intake, as most people consume too little omega-3 and too much omega-6. Symptoms of omega-3 deficiency include depression, joint pain, dry skin, cognitive issues, and sleep problems. Omega-3s are one of those "universally great" supplements you can take to support your health on so many fronts. Omega-3s are a key component of the Mediterranean diet, given its emphasis on healthy fatty fish.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do omega-3 fatty acids do for the body?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a brain essential and anti-inflammatory. They support memory and mood, protect vision, support heart health, and promote healthy aging.

What food is highest in omega-3 fatty acids?

Fatty fish contain the highest levels of the DHA form of omega-3 fatty acids, in the most absorbable form. Think salmon, mackerel, and trout. ALA can theoretically convert into DHA, but in reality only about five percent effectively converts.

What are the main symptoms of low omega-3 fatty acids?

The main symptoms of low omega-3 fatty acids include brittle hair and nails, dry skin, brain fog, memory problems, depression and mood swings, joint pain, and sleep issues.

Do omega-3 fatty acids have any side effects?

Omega-3 fatty acids are well-tolerated and show little evidence of mercury concerns. Talk with your doctor before taking omega-3s if you're taking blood thinners or blood pressure drugs.

  1. Liao Y, Xie B, Zhang H, He Q, Guo L, Subramanieapillai M, Fan B, Lu C, McIntyre RS. Efficacy of omega-3 PUFAs in depression: A meta-analysis. Transl Psychiatry. 2019 Aug 5;9(1):190. doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0515-5. Erratum in: Transl Psychiatry. 2021 Sep 7;11(1):465. doi: 10.1038/s41398-021-01582-6. PMID: 31383846; PMCID: PMC6683166. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31383846/
  2. Liao Y, Xie B, Zhang H, He Q, Guo L, Subramanieapillai M, Fan B, Lu C, McIntyre RS. Efficacy of omega-3 PUFAs in depression: A meta-analysis. Transl Psychiatry. 2019 Aug 5;9(1):190. doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0515-5. Erratum in: Transl Psychiatry. 2021 Sep 7;11(1):465. doi: 10.1038/s41398-021-01582-6. PMID: 31383846; PMCID: PMC6683166. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31383846/
  3. Boe C, Vangsness CT. Fish Oil and Osteoarthritis: Current Evidence. Am J Orthop (Belle Mead NJ). 2015 Jul;44(7):302-5. PMID: 26161757. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26161757/
  4. Proudman SM, Cleland LG, James MJ. Dietary omega-3 fats for treatment of inflammatory joint disease: efficacy and utility. Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 2008 May;34(2):469-79. doi: 10.1016/j.rdc.2008.03.003. PMID: 18638687. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18638687/
  5. Jung JY, Kwon HH, Hong JS, Yoon JY, Park MS, Jang MY, Suh DH. Effect of dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acid and gamma-linolenic acid on acne vulgaris: a randomised, double-blind, controlled trial. Acta Derm Venereol. 2014 Sep;94(5):521-5. doi: 10.2340/00015555-1802. PMID: 24553997. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24553997/
  6. Neukam K, De Spirt S, Stahl W, Bejot M, Maurette JM, Tronnier H, Heinrich U. Supplementation of flaxseed oil diminishes skin sensitivity and improves skin barrier function and condition. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2011;24(2):67-74. doi: 10.1159/000321442. Epub 2010 Nov 18. PMID: 21088453. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23206895/
  7. Yurko-Mauro K, McCarthy D, Rom D, Nelson EB, Ryan AS, Blackwell A, Salem N Jr, Stedman M; MIDAS Investigators. Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline. Alzheimers Dement. 2010 Nov;6(6):456-64. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2010.01.013. PMID: 20434961. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20434961/
  8. Chiu CC, Su KP, Cheng TC, Liu HC, Chang CJ, Dewey ME, Stewart R, Huang SY. The effects of omega-3 fatty aci
  9. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/omega-3-for-your-eyes
  10. Farsi PF, Djazayery A, Eshraghian MR, Koohdani F, Saboor-Yaraghi AA, Derakhshanian H, Zarei M, Javanbakht MH, Djalali M. Effects of supplementation with omega-3 on insulin sensitivity and non-esterified free fatty acid (NEFA) in type 2 diabetic patients. Arq Bras Endocrinol Metabol. 2014 Jun;58(4):335-40. doi: 10.1590/0004-2730000002861. PMID: 24936727. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24936727/
  11. Troesch B, Eggersdorfer M, Laviano A, Rolland Y, Smith AD, Warnke I, Weimann A, Calder PC. Expert Opinion on Benefits of Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids (DHA and EPA) in Aging and Clinical Nutrition. Nutrients. 2020 Aug 24;12(9):2555. doi: 10.3390/nu12092555. PMID: 32846900; PMCID: PMC7551800. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32846900/
  12. Chauhan S, Kodali H, Noor J, Ramteke K, Gawai V. Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Lipid Profile in Diabetic Dyslipidaemia: Single Blind, Randomised Clinical Trial. J Clin Diagn Res. 2017 Mar;11(3):OC13-OC16. doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2017/20628.9449. Epub 2017 Mar 1. PMID: 28511427; PMCID: PMC5427353. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32846900/
  13. Hosseinzadeh Atar MJ, Hajianfar H, Bahonar A. The effects of omega-3 on blood pressure and the relationship between serum visfatin level and blood pressure in patients with type II diabetes. ARYA Atheroscler. 2012 Spring;8(1):27-31. PMID: 23056097; PMCID: PMC3448398. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23056097/
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