11 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Consuming Omega 3 Fatty Acids or Fish Oil

9 Important Reasons to Consume More Omega 3 Fatty Acids

One of the top selling dietary supplements these days are omega 3 fish oil supplements. It was a study from the 70s that paved the way for understanding the importance of omega 3 fatty acids. The study followed a group of Inuit in Greenland, a population whose main dietary source is from the sea and is very rich in fatty acids. During the test period it was found that these men had less chronic diseases and were overall healthier compared to the Western population.

Omega 3 fatty acids are essential to the body, but your body is unable to produce them. Our body can get them only through proper nutrition. These fatty acids have a role in cell membranes of the body and they also affect metabolic and biochemical processes.

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega 3 fatty acids are a family of polyunsaturated fats essential to your body. They come in different lengths: short chain fatty acids and long ones.

The role of omega 3 fatty acids is that they serve as building blocks for cell membranes and store energy for the body. They provide energy for the muscles, heart, and other organs. Fatty acids that are not used up as energy are converted into triglycerides which then stored in the body as fat tissue. (1)

Different Forms of Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 comes in 3 different forms:

ALA – Alpha-Linolenic Acid
EPA – Eicosapentaenoic Acid
DHA – Docosahexaenoic Acid

Plant-based foods such as nuts and seeds contain ALA fatty acid. Seafood contains the long chain fatty acids, EPA and DHA.

ALA is a short chain fatty acid, whereas EPA and DHA are long chain fatty acids. The body needs to convert the short-chain version (ALA) to a long-chain version (EPA and DHA) in order to make use of it, however your body can only convert very small amounts ALA into EPA and then to DHA. (2) This is why ALA isn’t considered as powerful as the other omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA.

If you suspect you don’t get enough omega 3s, it is recommended to consume it as a supplement, but always consult with your doctor before taking omega 3 fish oil supplement.

Sources of Omega 3s

Studies on the effects of omega 3 highlight how important this fatty acid is to our body. It is important to remember that omega 3 is not produced naturally in our body so we must consume it in order to provide the body with these fatty acids it needs to perform at top level.

Seafood and fish oil are great sources of omega 3 (DHA and EPA). Halibut, herring, mackerel, oysters, salmon, sardines, trout, tuna and cod are rich sources of long chain omega 3 fatty acids.

Vegetables, especially green leafy ones, such as kale, parsley, mint, Brussels sprouts, spinach, watercress, ground flaxseed, flaxseed oil, chia seeds and quinoa are rich in ALA, as well as nuts and seeds.

Bread and pasta are some of the foods most commonly enriched with omega 3.

What is Omega 3 Good For?

1. Omega 3 supplements may reduce risks associated with pregnancy

A study published on 2010 has found that adequate consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is very important during pregnancy as they are critical building blocks of fetal brain and retina. It is also believed that omega-3 fatty acids may also play a role in determining the length of gestation and in preventing perinatal depression. (3)

The researchers concluded that during pregnancy, omega-3 requirements increase to support fetal growth, particularly of the brain and eyes. They recommend two servings of 6-ounce low mercury fish and seafood per week for pregnant women, as consuming more may pose a risk of mercury toxicity. Alternatively, pregnant women can consume omega-3 fatty acid supplements such as fish oil and some prenatal vitamins.

2. Omega 3s can reducing risk of childhood allergy

A study published on 2018 found that when pregnant women took a daily fish oil capsule from 20 weeks of pregnancy and during the first three to four months of breastfeeding, the risk of egg allergy in the child was reduced by 30%.

This study was one of the largest ever research reports of how a pregnant woman’s diet affects her baby’s allergy and assessed around 19 trials of fish oil supplements during pregnancy, involving around 15,000 people. (4)

The researchers also found that taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy reduced the child’s risk of peanut allergy by 38% although this finding was based only on two studies, and not as reliable as the egg allergy.

3. Omega 3 fatty acids can improve cognition and memory

A study from 2014 tested the effect of EPA and DHA supplements on cognitive performance and brain function. It was found that EPA-rich supplementation was more effective than DHA-rich supplementation in enhancing brain functioning after a 30-day supplementation period in the same group of individuals. (5)

Another study published on 2010 found that that omega-3 supplementation had some positive effects on certain aspects of cognition, such as memory and attention, in older adults who were cognitively intact or had mild cognitive impairment. (6)

It should be noted that a review from 2018 evaluated the scientific evidence published in the years 2012-2017 on the effects of omega 3 intake on cognitive development. This review concluded that it is still unclear if omega 3 can improve cognitive development or prevent cognitive decline in young or older adults. (7)

Further reading: The Best Foods, Herbs & Other Ways to Improve Memory and Brain Function.

4. Omega 3 fats may help improve your mood

Researchers note that some previous studies have indicated that lack of omega 3 fatty acids was accompanied by mood disorders and reduced cognitive function. Some studies have also suggested that omega-3 supplements may be used as additional therapy in psychiatric illnesses.

For example, a study published on 2014 mentioned the biological properties of omega-3 fatty acids, their anti-inflammatory effects and their important role on the structural changing of the brain. These effects should be taken into account to better understand their role in preventing or treating depression. (8)

According to Mayo Clinic, fish oil isn’t considered a replacement for treatment of mild to moderate depression, but it may be helpful as an addition to prescribed medications or other treatments. (9)

Further reading: 5 Effective Natural Treatments for Depression.

5. Fish oil may stall effects of junk food on brain

A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in May 2013 shows that consumption of omega 3 protects the brain from damage caused by eating foods high in bad fat such as junk food. The study found that fish oil prevents the adverse effects caused by junk food and excess fat in food. It is important to note that omega 3 supplementation didn’t cause any weight loss.

Studies conducted over more than a decade show that high fat diet causes damage to the creation of nerve cells in the brain. Researchers from the University of Liverpool have found that a diet rich in omega 3 fish oil can prevent the damage by stimulating areas of the brain responsible for learning and memory. The researchers noted that the effect is created through changes in the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates. (10)

6. Omega 3 fatty acids can fight inflammation

Inflammation in the body is a natural healing process during injury or invasion of a foreign antigen to our body. However sometimes the inflammatory response doesn’t heal and becomes chronic. Chronic inflammation eventually leads to tissue damage.

Today it is known that chronic inflammation may accelerate the development of chronic diseases such as heart and vascular diseases, arthritis, cancer and metabolic syndrome. Omega 3 is responsible for metabolic processes that help fight inflammation.

For example, a study from 2017 found that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids inhibits the secretion of inflammatory factors. The research group hopes that these findings will benefit patients with different forms of cancer, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease or jaundice. (11)

Another study from 2010 suggests that fatty acids EPA and DHA influence inflammation through a variety of mechanisms. As a result of their anti-inflammatory actions, they have therapeutic efficacy in rheumatoid arthritis, and may contribute with their protective actions towards atherosclerosis and cardiovascular mortality. (12)

7. Omega 3 supplements could help treat ADHD

A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry on 2011 found that children suffering from ADHD benefited from consuming EPA.

The study discovered that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, particularly with higher doses of EPA, was modestly effective in the treatment of ADHD compared with currently available pharmacological therapies. Although the effect was modest, the researchers suggest that since omega 3 consumption has minimal side-effect profile, it may be reasonable to use omega-3 supplements to increase traditional treatments or for families who decline other options.(13)

8. Omega 3s reduce learning difficulties

A study conducted at the University of Oxford, found that daily consumption of DHA for 16-week treatment period led to a significant improvement in reading and behavior in under-performing children.

The research was done on children aged seven to nine who had under-performed in standardized reading tests. The research suggests that 600 mg/day of DHA supplementation is a simple and effective way to improve reading and behavior in healthy but under-performing children. (14)

9. Omega 3s can relieve migraines

A preliminary study suggests that fish oil may be beneficial in the treatment of recurrent migraines in adolescents. Patients experienced a reduction in frequency, duration, and severity of headaches during treatment with fish oil and during treatment with olive oil. (15)

10. Fish oil can protect your heart

A review of studies published in 2015 found that individuals who consumed fatty fish a few times per week had almost one-half the risk of death from coronary heart disease and almost one-third the risk of death from a heart attack in comparison with those who consumed no fish. (16)

11. Omega 3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of breast cancer

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women. There are many factors contributing to the development of this much feared disease and diet is a very important one. A change in diet can do a great deal to prevent, and sometimes even treat, breast cancer.

Scientific studies suggest that consumption of two portions of oily fish weekly, can lower the risk of breast cancer by up to 14%.

A group of Chinese scientists compared data from different previously published studies that looked at the association between intake of fish and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (also known as n-3 PUFA) and the risk of breast cancer. 26 publications, examining 20,905 cases of breast cancer among 883,585 participants, were included in their meta-analysis. The results were published in 2013 in The British Medical Journal (BMJ). (17)

The researchers concluded that higher consumption of omega-3 from fish lowered the risk of breast cancer in the studied population. The participants were taking a combination of EPA and DHA. For every 100 milligrams of omega-3 per day, the risk went down by 5%. The risk could be reduced by up to 14%, which presents a significant reduction that is attributed to one specific dietary habit.

The study provided support for the use of high-quality fish oil by women wishing to reduce their risk of breast cancer.

Fish or Fish Oil – Which One to Consume?

This is a dilemma for many, and there are different opinions on the subject.

If you are healthy and you are trying to maintain your health, it is recommended to eat 6 oz. (180 grams) portions of fatty fish 2 to 3 times a week. Eating fish will provide you with sufficient amounts of EPA and DHA, and also supply you with protein, selenium and vitamin D. A normal-size serving of salmon fillet contains up to 3 grams of EPA/DHA (depending on the time of year, how it’s prepared and where it’s coming from).

However if you already suffer from a chronic condition, you might need to use omega 3 supplements alongside whole fish. Some nutritional experts suggest taking 1 gram of high-quality fish oil daily as well as eating fish 2 to 3 times a week. This will ensure you receive a therapeutic dose of DHA, which is 1.5 grams per day.

If you buy supplements, make sure they contain both EPA and DHA. To improve the absorption of fish oil, you need to take the capsules with a high-fat meal. For example, if you take the supplement together with olive oil, the body will be able to use it much better compared to when taken alone.

The Correct Ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3

We hear a lot about omega-3 and omega-6 fats. But the world of fatty acids is a complicated one. And when you try to establish what the best way to meet your daily requirements is, things can become even trickier. So here’s a short summary of the topic that might help clear up things a little bit.

Omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated (long-chain) fats are considered essential for the functioning of your body. They build cells and support your brain and nervous system. Since the body can’t make them, they need to be supplied with food or alternatively, in the form of supplements. However, certain things need to be considered when you’re working out your best health promoting diet.

To be healthy, you need a ratio of 1:1 omega-6 to omega-3. Nowadays, the ratio is 15:1 in favor of omega-6 fatty acids. The problem is that too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 can make you sick. Omega-6 fatty acids act as pro-inflammatory, and omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, so when the balance is disturbed, different chronic conditions can develop, including cancer, heart disease and autoimmune disease. (18, 19)

People in the developed world are often deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. We consume too many sources of omega-6 (different processed vegetable oils, for example, soybean oil, sunflower oil and corn oil), while we ignore fish rich in omega-3. So, the first thing you should do is reduce your omega-6 consumption. Instead of using oils high in omega 6, switch to oils low in omega 6 fatty acids such as coconut oil, olive oil or butter. Then increase your omega 3 intake (EPA and DHA).

Taking omega 3 is also one of the 70 habits featured in my e-book 70 Powerful Habits For A Great Health which will guide you how to take positive steps to improve your wellness and overall health.

You’ll also find omega 3 in whole foods like seeds and nuts. Click here to read about the health benefits of nuts and seeds:

Health Benefits of Nuts and Seeds

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