5 Reasons You Need Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids are one of those important nutrients that everyone needs, yet few of us get enough of. Omega-3s are considered “essential” because our bodies need them to function well, but can’t produce them from scratch. That means we have to get our omega-3s from our food, or take them as supplements. Omega-3s are primarily found in oily, wild-caught fish like salmon, trout, tuna, and anchovies, as well as in some nuts and seeds. But since most Americans don’t eat these foods in abundance, most of us tend to be short on our consumption of omega-3s.

So how does your body use omega-3s? For one thing, omega-3s make up an important structural component of your cell membranes, where they help mediate healthy cellular function and signaling. Omega-3s are found in cell membranes throughout the body, but are especially concentrated in the brain and the eyes. Your body also uses omega-3s to produce signaling molecules called eicosanoids, which influence your heart health, immune health, and more.[1]

But omega-3s also influence your health in another way: by balancing the effects of omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6s are another type of essential fatty acid that your body uses to build cell membranes and produce certain other eicosanoids. The difference is that our standard American diet is abnormally high in omega-6 fatty acids, so we tend to have way more omega-6s than we do omega-3s. This is a problem, because our bodies function better when these omegas are more balanced.

For instance, omega-6 fatty acids tend to produce more pro-inflammatory eicosanoids. While these are important for a healthy immune response, too many of them may result in a state of persistent inflammation. Studies link long-term inflammation with a number of disease conditions, including heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and cancer.[2] However, omega-3s can help regulate this inflammatory response. Research shows that when there is a higher concentration of omega-3s to balance the omega-6s, widespread inflammation tends to go down.[1][3]

By supporting healthy cell membranes, healthy cell signalling, and healthy levels of inflammation, omega-3 fatty acids can support a number of important health benefits. Here are five good reasons to make sure you are getting enough omega-3s.

1. Heart Health

Researchers began studying the benefits of omega-3s for heart health when they noticed that communities who regularly eat fish tend to have fewer heart health problems. Studies have found that people who eat fish 1-3 times a week have about 30% less chance of succumbing to fatal heart disease, compared to those who don’t eat fish.[4]  A substantial body of evidence now suggests that the omega-3s in the fish are the source of these benefits.

Studies confirm that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish -- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) -- have multiple benefits for heart health. Omega-3s can help lower elevated triglyceride levels,[5] increase “good” HDL cholesterol,[6] reduce arterial plaque buildup,[7] and support endothelial (blood vessel) function,[8] all of which can help reduce serious heart health risks.

It’s why the American Heart Association has recommended since 2000 that all adults eat fish at least twice a week to support their heart health.[9]  For those who don’t eat fish regularly, Omega-3 Supplements can help fill the gap.

2. Brain Health 

Omega-3s are important building blocks for your brain cells. In fact, your brain is 60% fat, and a good 25% of that is DHA. DHA is crucial for the healthy development of a child’s brain and nervous system in the womb and early life,[10] making it an important prenatal nutrient. In adults, omega-3s help make up the membranes that protect brain and nerve cells and facilitate communication between them.

Omega-3s also help manage inflammation in the brain,[11] which is linked with mood imbalances and cognitive decline. Research shows a link between low levels of omega-3s and a higher occurrence of mood imbalances[12][13] and cognitive decline, especially in older adults.[14][15] Studies suggest that omega-3s may help support a healthy mood[16] and help you maintain healthy cognitive function as you age.[17][18]

3. Eye Health

Omega-3s, particularly DHA, are highly concentrated in the cell membranes of the retina, where they support normal retinal function and help protect against inflammation. DHA plays a significant role in infant eye development and is thought to remain important for maintaining visual health as you age.[19]

Studies have found that those who eat more fatty fish are less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration.[20][21] Clinical studies also show that omega 3 supplements help maintain eye moisture and can help relieve some of the symptoms and discomfort of dry eye syndrome.[21][23][24]

4. Skin Health

Omega-3 fatty acids are a vital component of the cell membranes which make up your skin’s barriers. These membranes are responsible for keeping moisture in and irritants out, as well as facilitating a healthy flow of nutrients into the cell and waste products out of the cell. By maintaining healthy skin barriers, omega-3s help keep your skin nourished, moisturized, and protected.[25][26]

But omega-3s also help your skin by reducing the production of inflammatory compounds, which are involved in skin breakouts as well as signs of skin aging. Studies have shown that omega-3s can have beneficial effects for inflammatory acne[27][28] and even improve skin’s resistance to UV light,[29] which is one of the most common causes of accelerated skin aging.

5. Joint Health

Excess inflammation in the joints can cause stiffness and discomfort. Because omega-3 fatty acids help manage inflammation in the body, they may help with some of these issues. Though research is still in the early stages, some promising studies suggest that omega-3s can improve joint comfort and mobility for those with joint health issues.[30][31][32] It’s worth asking your doctor about it if you have joint problems.

Omega-3 fatty acids can benefit your health in so many ways, you should make sure you are getting them one way or another. Since wild-caught, fatty fish is easily the richest food source of EPA and DHA, vegans and vegetarians are especially likely to be low in omega-3s. If fish isn’t a regular part of your diet, omega-3 supplements can help fill the gap. We offer a purified fish oil supplement with 1100 mg combined EPA and DHA, as well as a vegan-friendly DHA supplement from ocean algae. 

References

[1] “Omega 3 Fatty Acids.” National Institutes of Health.

[2]  “Inflammation.” WebMD.

[3] “How to Optimize Your Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio.” Healthline, June 2018.

[4] Hu FB, Bronner L, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Rexrode KM, Albert CM, Hunter D, Manson JE.Fish and omega-3 fatty acid intake and risk of coronary heart disease in women.JAMA. 2002; 287:1815–1821.

[5] Oelrich B, Dewell A, Gardner CD. “Effect of fish oil supplementation on serum triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and LDL subfractions in hypertriglyceridemic adults.” Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2013 Apr;23(4):350-7. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2011.06.003. Epub 2011 Sep 15. PMID: 21924882.

[6] Eslick GD, Howe PR, Smith C, Priest R, Bensoussan A. “Benefits of fish oil supplementation in hyperlipidemia: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Int J Cardiol. 2009 Jul 24;136(1):4-16. doi: 10.1016/j.ijcard.2008.03.092. Epub 2008 Sep 6. PMID: 18774613.

[7] Thies F, Garry JM, Yaqoob P, Rerkasem K, Williams J, Shearman CP, Gallagher PJ, Calder PC, Grimble RF. ”Association of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids with stability of atherosclerotic plaques: a randomised controlled trial.” Lancet. 2003 Feb 8;361(9356):477-85. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(03)12468-3. PMID: 12583947.

[8] Wang Q, Liang X, Wang L, Lu X, Huang J, Cao J, Li H, Gu D. “Effect of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation on endothelial function: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Atherosclerosis. 2012 Apr;221(2):536-43. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2012.01.006. Epub 2012 Jan 20. PMID: 22317966.

[9] Penny M. Kris-Etherton, William S. Harris, Lawrence J. Appel, and for the AHA Nutrition Committee. “Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease.” Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 2003;23:151–152.

[10] Greenberg, James A et al. “Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplementation during pregnancy.” Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology vol. 1,4 (2008): 162-9.

[11] Layé S, Nadjar A, Joffre C, Bazinet RP. “Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Brain: Physiological Mechanisms and Relevance to Pharmacology.” Pharmacol Rev. 2018 Jan;70(1):12-38. doi: 10.1124/pr.117.014092. PMID: 29217656.

[12] Grosso, Giuseppe et al. “Omega-3 fatty acids and depression: scientific evidence and biological mechanisms.” Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity vol. 2014 (2014): 313570. doi:10.1155/2014/313570

[13] Balanzá-Martínez V, Fries GR, Colpo GD, Silveira PP, Portella AK, Tabarés-Seisdedos R, Kapczinski F. “Therapeutic use of omega-3 fatty acids in bipolar disorder.” Expert Rev Neurother. 2011 Jul;11(7):1029-47. doi: 10.1586/ern.11.42. PMID: 21721919.

[14] Dyall, Simon C. “Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA. Frontiers in aging neuroscience vol. 7 52. 21 Apr. 2015, doi:10.3389/fnagi.2015.00052

[15] A. Veronica Witte, Lucia Kerti, Henrike M. Hermannstädter, Jochen B. Fiebach, Stephan J. Schreiber, Jan Philipp Schuchardt, Andreas Hahn, Agnes Flöel. “Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids Improve Brain Function and Structure in Older Adults. Cerebral Cortex, Volume 24, Issue 11, November 2014, Pages 3059–3068, https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bht163

[16] Lin PY, Su KP. “A meta-analytic review of double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of antidepressant efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids.” J Clin Psychiatry. 2007 Jul;68(7):1056-61. doi: 10.4088/jcp.v68n0712. PMID: 17685742.

[17] 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.

[18] van Gelder BM, Tijhuis M, Kalmijn S, Kromhout D. “Fish consumption, n-3 fatty acids, and subsequent 5-y cognitive decline in elderly men: the Zutphen Elderly Study.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Apr;85(4):1142-7. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/85.4.1142. PMID: 17413117.

[19] Omega-3 for your eyes.” Harvard Health Publishing, Aug. 2012.

[20] SanGiovanni JP, Chew EY, Agrón E, Clemons TE, Ferris FL 3rd, Gensler G, Lindblad AS, Milton RC, Seddon JM, Klein R, Sperduto RD; Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. “The relationship of dietary omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intake with incident age-related macular degeneration: AREDS report no. 23.” Arch Ophthalmol. 2008 Sep;126(9):1274-9. doi: 10.1001/archopht.126.9.1274. PMID: 18779490; PMCID: PMC2812063.

[21] Chiu CJ, Milton RC, Klein R, Gensler G, Taylor A. “Dietary compound score and risk of age-related macular degeneration in the age-related eye disease study.” Ophthalmology. 2009 May;116(5):939-46. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2008.12.025. PMID: 19410952; PMCID: PMC3753024.

[22] Bhargava R, Kumar P, Kumar M, Mehra N, Mishra A. “A randomized controlled trial of omega-3 fatty acids in dry eye syndrome.” Int J Ophthalmol. 2013 Dec 18;6(6):811-6. doi: 10.3980/j.issn.2222-3959.2013.06.13. PMID: 24392330; PMCID: PMC3874521.

[23] Kangari H, Eftekhari MH, Sardari S, Hashemi H, Salamzadeh J, Ghassemi-Broumand M, Khabazkhoob M. “Short-term consumption of oral omega-3 and dry eye syndrome.” Ophthalmology. 2013 Nov;120(11):2191-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2013.04.006. Epub 2013 May 1. PMID: 23642375.

[24] Giannaccare G, Pellegrini M, Sebastiani S, Bernabei F, Roda M, Taroni L, Versura P, Campos EC. “Efficacy of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation for Treatment of Dry Eye Disease: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials.” Cornea. 2019 May;38(5):565-573. doi: 10.1097/ICO.0000000000001884. PMID: 30702470.

[25] Bouchez, Collete. “Want Healthy Skin? Feed it Well.” WebMD

[26] Balbás, G Márquez et al. “Study on the use of omega-3 fatty acids as a therapeutic supplement in treatment of psoriasis. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology vol. 4 (2011): 73-7. doi:10.2147/CCID.S17220

[27] 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.

[28] Khayef, Golandam et al. “Effects of fish oil supplementation on inflammatory acne. Lipids in health and disease vol. 11 165. 3 Dec. 2012, doi:10.1186/1476-511X-11-165

[29] Pilkington SM, Watson RE, Nicolaou A, Rhodes LE. “Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: photoprotective macronutrients.” Exp Dermatol. 2011 Jul;20(7):537-43. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0625.2011.01294.x. Epub 2011 May 16. PMID: 21569104.

[30] Kostoglou-Athanassiou, Ifigenia et al. “The Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Rheumatoid Arthritis. Mediterranean journal of rheumatology vol. 31,2 190-194. 30 Jun. 2020, doi:10.31138/mjr.31.2.190

[31] Vermel' AE. [Clinical application of omega-3-fatty acids (cod-liver oil)]. Klin Med (Mosk). 2005;83(10):51-7. Russian. PMID: 16320848.

[32] Boe C, Vangsness CT. “Fish Oil and Osteoarthritis: Current Evidence.” Am J Orthop (Belle Mead NJ). 2015 Jul;44(7):302-5. PMID: 26161757.