The main advantages of omega-3 fatty acids are their positive effects on brain and bone health.
As a result of its purported ability to improve cardiovascular health and promote immunity, fish oil has become one of the most popular nutritional supplements on the market. But are there actual health benefits to be had from increasing one’s regular intake of omega-3?
The word “omega-3” is used to refer to a class of unsaturated fatty acids that share a particular molecular double bond, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (ALA).
Dr. Claire Thomas, medical doctor and clinical content lead at Evergreen Life, explains that these fats are called “essential” because the human body cannot produce them on its own (opens in new tab). When it comes to getting your omega-3s, there are many of options besides pills. Oily fish like mackerel, salmon, and herring are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Good substitutes for meat include walnuts, soy beans, chia seeds, and flax seeds.
Researchers have been looking into omega-3’s health advantages for a long time now. These nutrients have been demonstrated to be the driving force in lowering inflammation levels, a major risk factor for a wide variety of chronic diseases, according to the journal Nutrients(opens in new tab). The omega-3 fatty acid may play a significant role in the health of our cardiovascular system, neurological system, and immunological system.
The anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric have been studied for their potential to help with inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis, among other disorders.
Here, we go into the research on essential fatty acids to help you comprehend the effects these substances can have on your brain and body.
1. it supports cardiovascular health
Most studies show that omega-3 has a very protective effect on our heart, making it one of the most studied benefits of omega-3. One large Cochrane systematic review(opens in new tab) suggests certain fatty acids, particularly ALA, may dramatically reduce the risk of death from coronary heart disease and cardiac events, and ALA may also help prevent arrhythmia.
The benefits of omega-3 for our cardiovascular system are multifaceted. According to Abbas Kanani, a pharmacist at Chemist Click, “they are vital in creating hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation” (opens in new tab). Since its goal is to lessen the amount of plaque in the coronary arteries, this may be helpful for treating cardiovascular disease.
(Image credit: Getty Images)
The endothelium, a thin membrane that coats the lining of the heart and blood arteries, may benefit from omega-3 fatty acids as well. According to a report in the journal Atherosclerosis(opens in a new tab), this is because they may regulate blood pressure, the amount of fluid transported by the circulation, and the diameter of blood vessels.
Overweight people with metabolic syndrome have shown in studies(opens in new tab) that omega-3 may help balance blood lipids, especially by lowering levels of the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.
However, it should be noted that several research conducted over the years failed to find any associations between omega-3 and heart health. Researchers speculate that variations in test doses may account for observed disparities.
2. it may boost immunity
One of the most recent purported advantages of omega-3 has been found to be an improved immune system. These fatty acids have been demonstrated to have an effect on the composition of our gut microorganisms, which may have a beneficial effect on our gut health (opens in new tab). Given that the digestive system is the body’s first line of defence against infectious germs, omega-3 may have an indirect but systemic influence on the immune system as a whole.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, these fatty acids also promote antibody formation and control the activity of white blood cells (opens in new tab).
3. it keeps your brain healthy
It’s possible that omega-3s are crucial to the health of our central nervous system and brain. According to a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, they can stop or slow the development of neurodegenerative disorders including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s (opens in new tab).
The nervous system may benefit from these fatty acids for a number of reasons. Brain cell membranes are rich in these chemicals, and they may alter neuronal communication, as reported in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience(opens in new tab). Also, a recent review published in the journal Nutrients(opens in new tab) argues that DHA is critical for normal brain and eye growth. This fatty acid in particular may have important effects on mental health in young children. Low levels of omega-3 in the diet have been linked to an increased danger of developing ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, and depression.
Researchers have shown that those who eat omega-3s on a daily basis have a lower risk of developing depression. While evidence linking EPA’s benefits to more severe forms of neuropsychiatric illness has only emerged recently, it appears to be there.
4. it contributes to eye health
Omega-3 has a vital function in eye health due to its essential position as a structural component of the retina. The retina’s job is to process the incoming visual information from the eye’s light receptors. If you don’t get enough of these fatty acids, it could affect your eyesight.
Kanani explains that omega-3 “optimises” photoreceptor membrane variability, retinal thickness and function, and offers protection. Protective effects of DHA against UV radiation and oxidative stress have been noted.
According to research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition(opens in new tab), these fats may even prevent neovascular eye illnesses like diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration. Treatments for each of these disorders that could prevent blindness have undesirable side effects.
5. it may improve your skin health
Omega-3, and EPA in particular, may help promote better skin, but this is not widely understood.
A sufficient amount of EPA “may help to not only keep skin hydrated, but also minimises the danger and effects of acne,” explains Thomas. Clinics in Dermatology(opens in new tab) describes research suggesting that omega-3 may help enhance skin moisture, regulate oil production, and slow the ageing process. The proper management of inflammatory skin disorders may depend on these fatty acids.
Treatment of atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and acne with a combination of omega-3 and omega-6 supplements has been reported to be successful by the International Journal of Molecular Sciences(opens in new tab).
6. it keeps your bones healthy
Omega-3 fatty acids may improve bone health in some ways. According to a meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Nutrition(opens in a new tab), these fatty acids have been linked to increases in bone mineral density and numerous markers of bone turnover in a number of studies. Omega-3 may have an especially strong effect on osteocalcin levels in postmenopausal women, suggests a meta-analysis published in the journal Climacteric(opens in new tab). Postmenopausal women have an increased chance of developing osteoporosis due to low levels of osteocalcin, a protein hormone involved in the maintenance and regeneration of bone tissue.
However, it should be noted that many investigations yielded fairly contradictory results. Recent research, however, suggests that various omega-3 sources may have varying effects on bone remodelling. When it comes to boosting bone mineral density, fish oil may be the superior option, while flaxseed oil may be more effective at enhancing bone structure.
Studies have shown that the anti-inflammatory qualities of omega-3 can dramatically alleviate joint discomfort in persons with rheumatoid arthritis, and Kanani adds that this may be true for the joints throughout the body. Prostaglandins are a type of lipid that helps control our immune system and reduce inflammation in our joints, and “they also build the support for prostaglandins.”
7. it may affect sleep
Omega-3 has been linked to improved sleep quality, and there’s more and more data suggesting it may have a role in regulating. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition(opens in a new tab) found that people whose diets routinely included higher amounts of these fatty acids also required less sleep overall.
Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids may aid in bettering newborn sleep. This could be due to the fact that they assist people establish a regular sleep-wake pattern without affecting either the amount of time spent sleeping or how well they rest.