The human body can make most of the types of fats it needs from other fats or raw materials. That isn’t the case for omega-3 fatty acids. These are essential fats—the body can’t make them but must get them from food.
There are three main omega-3s:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) come mainly from fish, so they are sometimes called marine omega-3s.
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the most common omega-3 fatty acid in most Western diets, is found in vegetable oils and nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds and flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables, and some animal fat, especially in grass-fed animals.
Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
What makes omega-3 fats special? They are an integral part of cell membranes throughout the body and affect the function of the cell receptors in these membranes. Omega-3 provides the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction, and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. They also bind to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function.
This article will explain the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and food resources to get more of these fats.
1. Fights Depression and Anxiety
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the world. Symptoms include sadness, lethargy and a general loss of interest in life. Anxiety, which is characterized by constant worry and nervousness, is also a very common disorder.
Studies have found that people who consume omega-3s regularly are less likely to be depressed. What’s more, when people with depression or anxiety start taking omega-3 supplements, their symptoms get better. Of the three types of omega-3s, EPA appears to be the best at fighting depression.
One study even found EPA to be as effective against depression as Prozac, an antidepressant drug.
2. Promotes Brain Health During Pregnancy and Early Life
Omega-3s are crucial for brain growth and development in infants. DHA accounts for 40% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the brain, and 60% in the retina of the eye.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that infants fed a DHA-fortified formula have better eyesight than infants fed a formula without it.
Getting enough omega-3s during pregnancy has been associated with numerous benefits for the child, including:
- Higher intelligence
- Better communication and social skills
- Less behavioral problems
- Decreased risk of developmental delay
- Decreased risk of ADHD, autism and cerebral palsy
3. Improved Risk Factors For Heart Disease
Heart attacks and strokes are the world’s leading causes of death. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have numerous benefits for heart health.
- Triglycerides: Omega-3s can cause a major reduction in triglycerides, usually in the range of 15–30%.
- HDL-cholesterol: Omega-3s can raise HDL (the “good”) cholesterol levels.
- Blood pressure: Omega-3s can reduce blood pressure levels in people with high blood pressure.
- Blood clots: Omega-3s can keep blood platelets from clumping together. This helps prevent the formation of harmful blood clots.
- Inflammation: Omega-3s reduce the production of some substances released during the inflammatory response.
- Plaque: By keeping the arteries smooth and free from damage, omega-3s help prevent the plaque that can restrict and harden the arteries.
4. Improves Eye Health
DHA, a type of omega-3, is a major structural component of the brain and retina of the eye. When you don’t get enough DHA, vision problems may arise.
Interestingly, getting enough omega-3 has been linked to a reduced risk of macular degeneration, one of the world’s leading causes of permanent eye damage and blindness.
5. May Reduce Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions. It includes central obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high triglycerides, and low HDL levels.
It is a major public health concern since it increases your risk of developing many other diseases. These include heart disease and diabetes.
Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce insulin resistance and inflammation, and improve heart disease risk factors in people with metabolic syndrome.
6. Omega-3s Can Fight Inflammation
Inflammation is incredibly important. We need it to fight infections and repair damage in the body. However, sometimes inflammation persists for a long time, even without an infection or injury is present. This is called chronic inflammation.
It is known that long-term inflammation can contribute to almost every chronic Western disease, including heart disease and cancer.
Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the production of molecules and substances linked to inflammation, such as inflammatory eicosanoids and cytokines. Studies have consistently shown a link between higher omega-3 intake and reduced inflammation.
7.Omega-3s Can Reduce Asthma in Children
Asthma is a chronic lung disease with symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing.
Severe asthma attacks can be very dangerous. They are caused by inflammation and swelling in the airways of the lungs.
What’s more, asthma rates have been increasing over the past few decades.
Several studies have linked omega-3 consumption to a lower risk of asthma in children and young adults.
8. Reduced Symptoms of ADHD in Children
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral disorder characterized by
Several studies have found that children with ADHD have lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, compared to their healthy peers.
What’s more, numerous studies have found that omega-3 supplements can actually reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
Omega-3s help improves inattention and the ability to complete tasks. They also decrease hyperactivity, impulsiveness, restlessness, and aggression.
Recently, researchers evaluated the evidence behind different treatments for ADHD. They found fish oil supplementation to be one of the most promising treatments.
9. Fight Autoimmune Diseases
In autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakes healthy cells for foreign cells and starts attacking them. Type 1 diabetes is one prime example.
Omega-3s can help fight some of these diseases and may be especially important during early life.
Studies show that getting enough omega-3s during your first year of life is linked to a reduced risk of many autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, autoimmune diabetes in adults and multiple sclerosis.
Omega-3s have also been shown to help treat lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and psoriasis.
10. Cancer Prevention
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the Western world, and omega-3 fatty acids have long been claimed to reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Interestingly, studies have shown that people who consume the most omega-3s have up to a 55% lower risk of colon cancer.
Additionally, Omega-3 consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women.
11. Improved Mental Disorders
Low omega-3 levels have been reported in people with psychiatric disorders.
Studies have shown that omega-3 supplements can reduce the frequency of mood swings and relapses in people with both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may also decrease violent behavior.
12. Fight Age-Related Mental Decline
A decline in brain function is one of the unavoidable consequences of aging.
Several studies have shown that higher omega-3 intake is linked to decreased age-related mental decline and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Additionally, one study found that people who eat fatty fish tend to have a more gray matter in the brain. This is brain tissue that processes information, memories, and emotions.
13. Omega-3s Can Reduce Fat in The Liver
A non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is more common than you think.
It has increased with the obesity epidemic and is now the most common cause of chronic liver disease in the Western world.
Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce liver fat and inflammation in people with a non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
14. May Improve Bone and Joint Health
Osteoporosis and arthritis are two common disorders that affect the skeletal system.
Studies indicate that omega-3s can improve bone strength by increasing the amount of calcium in bones. This should lead to a reduced risk of osteoporosis.
Omega-3s may also help with arthritis. Patients taking Omega-3 supplements have reported reduced joint pain and increased grip strength.
Foods That Are High in Omega-3
Many mainstream health organizations recommend a minimum of 250–500 mg of omega-3s per day for healthy adults. You can get the required amount from this list of foods that are very high in omega-3.
Mackerel are small, fatty fish. They are incredibly rich in nutrients — a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving packs 200% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for vitamin B12 and 100% for selenium.
Omega-3 content: 4,107 mg in one piece of salted mackerel, or 5,134 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
On top of that, these fish are delicious and require little preparation.
Salmon is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. It contains high-quality protein and a variety of nutrients, including large amounts of magnesium, potassium, selenium and B vitamins.
Omega-3 content: 4,023 mg in half a fillet of cooked, farmed Atlantic salmon, or 2,260 mg in 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
Cod Liver Oil
Cod liver oil is more of a supplement than a food.
As the name implies, it is oil extracted from the livers of cod fish.
Not only is this oil high in omega-3 fatty acids, but a single tablespoon is loaded with vitamins D and A — 338% and 270% of the RDIs, respectively.
Don’t take more than one tablespoon at a time, because too much vitamin A can be harmful.
Omega-3 content: 2,664 mg per tablespoon.
Herring is a medium-sized, oily fish. It is often cold-smoked, pickled or precooked, then sold as a canned snack.
A standard smoked fillet contains almost 100% of the RDI for vitamin Dand selenium and 50% of the RDI for vitamin B12.
Omega-3 content: 3,181 mg per fillet of raw Atlantic herring, or 1,729 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams).
Shellfish are among the most nutritious foods you can eat.
In fact, oysters contain more zinc than any other food on the planet. Just 6–7 raw oysters (3.5 ounces or 100 grams) pack 600% of the RDI for zinc, 200% for copper and 300% for vitamin B12.
Oysters are usually eaten as an appetizer, snack or whole meal. Raw oysters are a delicacy in many countries.
Omega-3 content: 565 mg in 6 raw, eastern oysters, or 672 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams).
Sardines are very small, oily fish that are commonly eaten as a starter, snack or delicacy.
They’re highly nutritious, especially when eaten whole. They contain almost every nutrient your body needs.
Omega-3 content: 2,205 mg per cup (149 grams) of canned Atlantic sardines, or 1,480 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams).
Flaxseeds are small brown or yellow seeds. They are often ground, milled or used to make oil.
These seeds are by far the richest whole-food source of the omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Therefore, flaxseed oil is often used as an omega-3 supplement.
Flaxseeds are also very high in fiber, vitamin E, magnesium and other nutrients. They have a great omega-6 to omega-3 ratio compared to most oily plant seeds.
Omega-3 content: 2,338 mg per tablespoon (14.3 grams) of whole seeds.
Anchovies are tiny, oily fish often bought dried or canned.
Usually eaten in very small portions, anchovies can be rolled around capers, stuffed in olives or used as pizza and salad toppings.
Anchovies are a great source of niacin and selenium, and boned anchovies are also rich in calcium.
Omega-3 content: 951 mg per can (2 ounces, or 45 grams) of European anchovies, or 2,113 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams).
Widely regarded as a luxurious food item, caviar is most often used in small quantities as a starter, taster or garnish.
Caviar is high in choline and exceptionally low in omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-3 content: 1,086 mg per tablespoon (14.3 grams), or 6,789 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams).
Chia seeds are incredibly nutritious — they’re rich in manganese, calcium, phosphorus and various other nutrients.
A standard 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of chia seeds contains 4 grams of protein, including all eight essential amino acids.
Omega-3 content: 4,915 mg per ounce (28 grams).
Walnuts are very nutritious and loaded with fiber. They also contain high amounts of copper, vitamin E and important plant compounds.
Omega-3 content: 2,542 mg per ounce (28 grams), or about 7 walnuts.