No, omega-3 isn’t the next prestigious sorority or fraternity. It’s actually a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid you need in your diet. You can get omega-3s from fatty fish, nuts, seeds, plant oils, and even fortified eggs and yogurt.
So what are the big benefits of omega-3 fatty acids?
When you’re eating plenty of omega-3s, you may unlock the following health benefits:
- healthier skin and hair
- eye health
- reduce period pain
- boost brain health and baby development
- reduce fat in your liver
- help heart health
- improve sleep
- build up strong bones
- improve joint health
- help depression symptoms
- ease anxiety
- improve other mental health disorders
- reduce ADHD symptoms
- reduce inflammation
- potential autoimmune disease treatment
- decrease metabolic syndrome risk
- potentially reduce age-related mental decline and Alzheimer’s
- ease asthma symptoms
- potentially help cancer
Here’s what science has to say about the top omega-3 fatty acid benefits.
Boost your skin and hair care routine with the addition of omega-3s.
As for hair, a 2018 study found that DHA plays a role in boosting dermal papilla cells, which help promote hair growth.
Omega-3 fatty acids are great for your peepers, and they’re actually essential to the health of your retinas.
When it comes to people, 79 percent of the 206 optometrists questioned in a 2020 survey recommended that their patients eat omega-3 fatty acids to improve eye health.
A 2018 clinical trial on 100 college-age women found that omega-3 supplementation helped relieve those painful period cramps. The combination of omega-3 and vitamin E supplements had an even greater effect.
Proper omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy can impact a child’s ability to think and learn, their behavior, their reproductive system, and even their susceptibility of chronic disease later in life.
DHA (another type of omega-3) is found in your central nervous system and is important for the development of your brain and eyes. Research has shown that DHA has a crucial role in human development, starting in the third trimester of pregnancy and continuing into the early years of a child’s life.
Having some fat on your liver is normal. But once fat makes up 5 percent of your liver, it’s considered a “fatty liver.” Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) affects people who drink little to no alcohol. Its potential causes include high body weight, insulin resistance, high blood sugar, and high fat levels in the blood.
Still, evidence for the effectiveness of omega-3s on severe NAFLD is inconclusive. We need more research to know just how significantly omega-3s come into play here.
The heart health benefits of omega-3s have been researched far and wide, and although nothing is certain, many studies look promising.
One 2019 review of 13 studies investigated whether omega-3 supplementation reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The researchers concluded that omega-3s significantly reduced the risk of heart attack, total CVD, total coronary heart disease (CHD), and death from either CVD or CHD.
Omega-3 fatty acids could be the answer if you need more Zzz’s in your life.
A 2016 study on 677 people found that those who ate larger amounts of oily fish (a good source of omega-3s) had better sleep quality.
Milk has a new teammate: Omega-3s are joining the roster to help your bones stay strong and healthy.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes decreased bone mass, leading to fragile and brittle bones that are prone to fractures. A 2020 study found that women over age 50 who consumed higher amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids (like omega-3s) had up to 20 percent lower likelihood of osteoporosis.
Since omega-3 fatty acids can help with inflammatory responses, research has found that they can also help prevent or reduce arthritis complications.
Arthritis causes swelling and tenderness in one or more joints. A 2020 review concluded that omega-3 intake may improve joint swelling and tenderness, morning stiffness, and physical function in folks with arthritis.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been researched widely for their effects on depression. A 2019 review of studies concluded that EPA (one of three types of omega-3 fatty acids) could help reduce depression symptoms.
And a small 2018 study found that patients with major depressive disorders showed improvement in depression symptoms, anxiety sensitivity, sleep, and emotional regulation when they took omega-3s in addition to antidepressant medication.
Anxiety and depression often get lumped together, but you can have either one or both.
A 2018 research review found that people who received omega-3 treatment had reduced symptoms of anxiety compared with those who took a placebo. This was especially true for groups that received dosages of at least 2,000 milligrams per day.
A 2017 review found that omega-3 supplementation as a complementary treatment for major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder helps reduce inflammatory agents linked to psychiatric disorders.
A 2020 article suggests that omega-3 supplementation may also restore neurotransmission and brain structure that are affected by schizophrenia. This may help moderate the behavior patterns often associated with the condition.
Dealing with adult ADHD? According to a 2020 review, both children and adults with ADHD symptoms (like anxiety, temper tantrums, hyperactivity-impulsivity, and sleep problems) had lower levels of omega-3s.
The same review mentioned several studies on the possible effects of omega-3 supplementation on ADHD.
A 2003 study found that an omega-3 and evening primrose oil supplement (containing mostly DHA and EPA) improved children’s attention and behavior more than an olive oil placebo. A 2015 review of 52 studies also found that omega-3 supplements helped reduce ADHD symptoms.
Inflammation is your body’s natural response to foreign invaders. Sometimes it can be short-lived, like when you have a cut or the flu. But if it lingers for too long, it can become chronic inflammation.
When that happens, the inflammation can start to harm healthy cells, tissues, and organs.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory condition that breaks down the protective covering of nerves. A 2019 review found that omega-3 supplementation reduced inflammatory markers and relapse rates and contributed to better quality of life in people living with MS.
When your immune system starts to attack healthy cells, thinking they’re invaders, you’re dealing with an autoimmune disorder. Some common autoimmune conditions are:
- celiac disease
- rheumatoid arthritis
- inflammatory bowel disease
- type 1 diabetes
Research has been conflicting, and more human studies need to be completed, but a 2019 review suggests that omega-3 supplementation could have promising effects on autoimmune diseases.
The researchers concluded that the anti-inflammatory actions of omega-3s could potentially treat or prevent certain autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and MS.
If you have a certain group of risk factors that increase your odds of heart disease and other health problems, you might have metabolic syndrome. Having three or more of these risk factors could lead to a metabolic syndrome diagnosis:
- high blood pressure
- high blood sugar
- low HDL cholesterol (the good one)
- high triglyceride levels
- a large waistline
This is where omega-3 fatty acids come into play. A 2020 review of studies including a total of 36,542 participants concluded that high omega-3 levels in diets or blood were linked with a 26 percent lower risk of metabolic syndrome.
Alzheimer’s disease impacts more than 5 million Americans, causing problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. This disease is not a typical part of aging, but increased age is the most significant risk factor.
A 2018 review evaluated whether omega-3 fatty acid supplementation could protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Seven studies found that omega-3s were most effective for mild cases involving slight brain function impairment.
More research is needed to see whether omega-3s could also be beneficial in severe cases.
Breathe in, breathe out. It’s easier said than done if you have asthma, which causes your airways to become inflamed and narrow. Since omega-3 fatty acids have the potential to fight inflammation, it’s no surprise that researchers want to see how it may affect asthma.
A 2019 study found that people with controlled or partially controlled asthma tended to have a higher omega-3 index (percent of EPA plus percent of DHA) in their blood. A higher omega-3 index was also associated with less use of an inhaler.
Although more research needs to be done, some studies on the effect of omega-3s on cancer cells look promising. One 2018 study on both human and rodent breast cancer cells found that DHA led to cell death in breast cancer cells while still allowing noncancerous cells to thrive.
According to a 2019 review, omega-3s might also help with cancer complications such as pain, depression, loss of appetite, and weight and muscle loss.
You’ve heard all the benefits — now where can you get them? Some foods naturally contain omega-3s, and others may be fortified.
Here are some of the most omega-3-rich foods:
- Fish and seafood: salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines
- Nuts and seeds: flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts
- Plant oils: flaxseed oil, soybean oil, canola oil
- Fortified foods: eggs, yogurt, milk, milk alternatives, baby formulas
You can also take omega-3 supplements, which are usually made with fish oil or algal oil (a vegetarian source from algae).
Omega-3 fatty acids have many potential health benefits for everything from your brain to your skin! Although we need more research in some cases, omega-3s’ possible effects on several aspects of our health are nuts (see what we did there? 😉).