Omega-3 fatty acids have been used for many years because of their health benefits. Often referred to as omega-3s, they are a kind of fat found in the human body and foods. Generally taken as a supplement, they are essential and provide the body and brain with unrivaled benefits. They reduce inflammation, promote heart and brain health, and provide protection against several chronic conditions.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
The omega-3 fatty acid family includes: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), stearidonic acid (SDA), and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). The two main primary polyunsaturated fats in brain cell membranes are EPA and DHA, which have become very popular over the years and are marketed as dietary supplements. The human body cannot make essential omega-3 fatty acids on its own, so humans must get the fatty acids or precursors from their diets.
While ALA from plants is converted in the body to the other types of omega-3s, the conversion is relatively inefficient and warrants adequate dietary intake of EPA and DHA. They are a vital building block for cell membranes, and researchers continue to look into them. Many studies have been performed on omega-3 fatty acids, so they have the scientific research to back up the claims. Only some nutrients have gone through such thorough testing as omega-3 fatty acids.
What are the Main Benefits of Omega-3s?
Scientists have researched omega-3s for decades, and there have been evidence-backed benefits of consuming adequate omega-3 fatty acids. Here are some of the main benefits of taking omega-3s:
Low-grade inflammation is chronic inflammation and has been linked to many health problems, including cancer, heart disease, and obesity. Inflammatory markers like interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein are measured to gauge a person’s overall inflammation levels, and taking omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to help lower inflammation levels in the body. One of the most potent lipids that is capable of reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, it may protect the body against developing chronic diseases.
Lower Cholesterol Levels
A 6-week study in which people supplemented at least 1.2 grams of DHA daily had increased their HDL (high-density lipoproteins) or “good” cholesterol levels while significantly reducing triglyceride levels. Omega-3 fatty acids lowered the LDL (low-density lipoproteins) or “bad” cholesterol levels when monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats found in plant foods like nuts and avocados replaced the usage of dietary saturated fats. People with elevated LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels are at an increased risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome.
Lower Blood Pressure
Omega-3s increase the bioavailability of nitric oxide, which can help improve vascular health. In a phase 2 scientific study, a significant reduction in blood pressure resulted from induced relaxation of blood vessels when nitric oxide levels were increased.
Is Omega-3 Good to Take Daily?
Since omega-3 fatty acids are essential to many aspects of health, not getting enough of the essential fatty acid can have adverse effects on your health. An omega-3 deficiency can present as dry, scaly skin, sleep disturbances, mood swings, and dermatitis. Taking an adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids daily can help prevent a deficiency of this crucial nutrient. How much omega-3 fish oil is needed to avoid a deficiency? The general dosage recommendation varies depending on factors like health status, gender, and age. It can also vary depending on how many omega-3 fatty acids you consume in foods or supplements.
Is There An Established Dose?
There currently isn’t an established dosage recommendation for DHA and EPA. Since ALA falls under an essential fatty acid and your body can’t produce it on its own, you must obtain it from supplements or food sources. The recommended amount of ALA omega-3s per day for males is 1.6 grams, and 1.1 grams for females. The general daily guidelines of omega-3 intake range between 250-500 milligrams of DHA and EPA combined. However, taking even higher amounts is safe with minimal side effects. The amount for children is different, and many organizations recommend at least 50-100 milligrams of DHA and EPA combined from supplements or food. The recommended amount of ALA daily for children is:
- Children ages 1–3: 0.7 gram of ALA/day
- Children ages 4–8: 0.9 gram of ALA/day
- Girls ages 9–13: 1 gram of ALA/day
- Boys ages 9–13: 1.2 grams of ALA/day
- Girls ages 14–18: 1.1 grams of ALA/day
- Boys ages 14–18: 1.6 grams of ALA/day
What Happens if You Take Omega-3 Fish Oil Every day?
If you take an omega-3 fish oil daily, you’ll be consistently increasing the level of omega-3s in your body. Since they are essential to our overall health, ensuring you’re getting enough is very important. There aren’t any adverse effects if you take more omega-3 fish oil daily, so it’s hard to overdose. Some people may notice they have loose stools or gastrointestinal upset if they take large doses of fish oil at a time, so if you’re taking a large quantity of fish oil, it may be better to break it up into smaller doses.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid Sources
Marine organisms like phytoplankton and algae synthesize DPA, DHA, and EPA omega-3 fatty acids. When crustaceans, fish, and aquatic mammals consume the fatty acids, they enter the food chain and get stored in the animal’s liver, blubber, and body fat. When humans consume the animal, they also consume omega-3 fatty acids. Sources of food that contain EPA, DHA, and DPA include:
- Fish oil
- Whale or seal blubber
- The liver of lean white fish like cod or halibut
- Fatty fish like sardines, mackerel, salmon, herring, or menhaden
- Tuna, haddock, cod flesh, flounder, and krill oil
ALA sources are concentrated in plant sources and are the most frequent omega-3 fatty acids used by the body that can create all other types of omega-3 fatty acids. Food sources of ALA include:
- Seeds and nuts
- Chia seeds
- Canola oils
- Soybean oils
Most adults in the United States consume the majority of omega-3s in the form of ALA. The recommended amount is 1.6 grams for adult males and 1.1 grams for adult females. It’s recommended to take an omega-3 supplement or consume foods high in EPA, DHA, and ALA because the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is not very effective. There are many different EPA and DHA omega-3 supplements available that can contribute to the daily omega-3 intake. Some fish oil is the most commonly consumed form of omega-3 fatty acid supplement.
Omega-3s and Brain Health
Depression symptoms include lethargy, sadness, and a loss of interest in life activities, and it is a very common mental disorder in the world. Another common mental disorder called anxiety causes feelings of restlessness, panic, and fear. People who consume omega-3s on a regular basis are less likely to have anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that those with anxiety and depression suggest that omega-3 supplements may improve their symptoms. Out of the three omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), EPA appears to provide the most benefits for brain health.
Omega-3s and Healthy Pregnancy
Omega 3-s are crucial for brain development in infants, and getting enough omega-3s while pregnant is associated with multiple benefits for the child, including:
- Better social and communication skills
- fewer behavioral problems
- Improved cognitive development
- Decreased risk of developmental delays
Omega-3s and Heart Health
Strokes and heart attacks are leading causes of death worldwide, and scientists discovered that communities that eat fish have lower rates of diseases. The researchers found that it was due to the higher omega-3 consumption that resulted in the lower rates of heart disease. Since this study, omega-3 fatty acids have also been linked to numerous heart health benefits, including:
- Reduced levels of triglycerides
- Raised HDL (good) cholesterol levels
- Blood clot prevention. Omega-3s help to keep blood platelets from clumping together, which prevents blood clots.
- Reduces inflammation as it reduces the production of substances released when your body has an inflammatory response.
- Lowered LDL (bad) cholesterol in some people.
Despite these health benefits on the heart disease risk factors, there’s not been any concrete evidence proving that omega-3 supplements reduce the risk of stroke or heart attacks. When markers of high blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol- markers associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease are reduced, omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of heart disease. The same study proved that high-dose supplementation of 4 grams of EPA in people with high triglycerides led to a 25% reduction in cardiovascular events.
Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Now that you’re aware of all the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, you may realize how important it is to get an adequate daily intake. Whether you increase your consumption of foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids or take a fish oil supplement, you’ll be supporting your overall health and wellness. Not only can you improve your overall health, but you may also be preventing future diseases. Give it a try and see how you feel!