There are so many supplements on the market today that promise healthy results – it can be difficult to know which ones will actually be beneficial and which are extraneous. Omega-3s is a popular supplement many health fanatics swear by. But what are omega-3 fatty acids really for and can it actually improve your life?
What Are Omega-3s?
Omega-3 is a fatty acid. The body creates a host of fatty acids on its own but omega-3 is a type that must be taken in from an external source. This essential fat is important throughout all stages of life to support brain function and development. It’s especially important for a growing baby.
Generally, we get our omega-3 intake from the foods we eat.
Where Can Omega-3 Be Found?
While the vast majority of health publications online will refer you to the popular solution of eating fish for eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3 fatty acids, we don’t recommend this.
Yes, some fish do contain high amounts of these fatty acids, but they also contain mercury and will be contaminated by the polluted waters they swim in. Fish are not the healthiest choice for finding your omega-3 fatty acids.
There are some plants that produce an omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). When you eat a plant rich in ALA, the body can then convert it to EPA or DHA. But only about 10% of the ALA will be successfully converted. Flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, edamame, spinach, and canola oil are all good sources of omega-3.
Benefits of Omega-3
So what are the benefits of maintaining an omega-3 fatty acid-rich diet?
Most of this research involves EPA + DHA, but ALA can also help improve your health.
Helps Maintain Cardiovascular Health
One major benefit of omega-3 fatty acids is that they can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. It does this by lowering triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are lipids that, when found in excess, can lead to cardiovascular issues. Omega-3 slows triglyceride production in the liver.
Omega-3 can also prevent blood platelets from clumping together, reduce plaque from forming along the arteries and reduce inflammation-induced atherosclerosis. All of these factors help to prevent or reduce the symptoms of cardiovascular diseases.
Can Improve Depression and Anxiety Symptoms
Depression and anxiety are two extremely prevalent mental disorders people around the world from all backgrounds experience. Since omega-3 plays a major role in brain function, it can play a role in keeping symptoms of anxiety and depression under control.
Studies show that people who consume the recommended amount of omega-3s tend to be less depressed. Moreover, there is evidence that omega-3 can help improve symptoms for those experiencing anxiety or depression.
Omega-3s Can Help Manage ADHD in Children
ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. Some studies show that children with ADHD have lower levels of omega-3 in their blood than their peers. Further research suggests that consuming more omega-3s could help children with ADHD focus to complete tasks more efficiently.
Omega-3s Can Combat Alzheimer’s Disease
Another troubling mental ailment many individuals across the globe suffer from is Alzheimer’s disease. This devastating illness can lead to severe memory loss, changes in mood, and difficulty navigating everyday life.
Although there isn’t currently a cure for Alzheimer’s, studies show that high omega-3 intake could decrease the risk of developing it. More research is still needed to learn more about the effects of omega-3s on the brain.
In addition, studies of vegetarians taking DHA supplements from the plants of the waters (like Opti-3, NuIque, or Algae Omega) preserved their brain volume on brain MRI scans over time, while those who did not take these supplements underwent brain atrophy associated with aging.
How Much Omega-3 Do I Need?
A healthy adult should take in anywhere from 250–500 mg of omega-3 fatty acids a day. If you have a heart condition, your healthcare provider might suggest a higher amount. Some individuals with cardiovascular or mental health conditions will be instructed to take up to one gram of EPA and DHA every day.
Should I Take an Omega-3 Supplement?
If your diet includes a lot of fish, you should consider switching to a plant-based DHA/EPA supplement that comes from the source that fish get their omega-3 from – the plants of the waters. Omega-3 supplements such as Opti-3, NuIque, or Algae Omega are not only a rich source of EPA and DHA but also other vital nutrients such as vitamin D, vitamin E, antioxidants, and more. There is a range of dosage levels to suit your unique needs.
Nedley Health offers an all-vegetarian Opti-3 supplement perfect for those hoping to avoid fish.
Please contact us first before publishing this or other Nedley Health articles.
[i] Cleveland Clinic Medical Professional (2019). Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Cleveland Clinic.
[ii] Gerster H (n.d.). Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)? Int J Vitam Nutr Res.
[iii] Grosso, G., Galvano, et al (2014). Omega-3 fatty acids and depression: scientific evidence and biological mechanisms. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity vol. 2014.
[iv] Kiecolt-Glaser, JK, et al (2011). Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: a randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun.
[vi] Gillies, D, Sinn, JKh, et al(2012). Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.
[vii] Fotuhi, M, Mohassel, P, & Yaffe, K (2009). Fish consumption, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and risk of cognitive decline or Alzheimer disease: a complex association. Nat Clin Pract Neurol.