- Omega-3 fatty acids can improve your heart health by lowering blood pressure and reducing triglycerides.
- Omega-3 fatty acids can also fight chronic inflammation, which has been linked to diabetes, cancer, and high cholesterol levels.
- To get enough omega-3s in your diet, you should eat fatty fish like salmon or mackerel two to three times a week.
- This article was medically checked by Scott Kaiser, MD, geriatrician and director of the Institute for Geriatric Cognitive Health at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at the Providence Saint John Health Center in Santa Monica, CA.
- Please refer to Insider’s Insider Reference Library for more information.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a category of fats that are essential to our health. These fats come in three main forms:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). These fatty acids are found in some nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and chia seeds.
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These fatty acids are found in fish such as salmon and mackerel.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids are found in fish such as herring and sardines.
Here are six benefits of consuming these omega-3 fatty acids, and how you can incorporate all three types into your diet:
1. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of heart disease
Omega-3 fatty acids have many cardiovascular health benefits. Some ways that omega-3 fatty acids can help improve your heart health include:
A very extensive 2016 review that collected data from 16 countries found that people who regularly consumed seafood and vegetable omega-3s were at lower risk of dying from coronary artery disease.
In addition, omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
2. Omega-3 fatty acids improve eye health
DHA, one of the three types of omega-3 fatty acids, is found in high concentrations in the retina – the part of your eye that senses light and sends signals to the brain so you can see. Adequate amounts of DHA are important for the structure and function of your retina.
“Most of the DHA accumulates in the retina when babies are in the womb,” says Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, a nutritionist with a virtual private practice. Therefore, it is especially important for pregnant women to consume enough omega-3 fatty acids to ensure that their child has proper eye development.
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Omega-3 fatty acids can also improve dry eye symptoms. A major 2018 report looked at treating dry eyes with omega-3 and omega-6 supplements. It found that the supplementation increased eye lubrication, but the results were not strong enough to recommend supplementation as a stand-alone treatment for dry eyes.
3. Omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation
Inflammation is a natural immune response to injury and infection. Acute inflammation, such as swelling or redness after scraping a knee, is beneficial and helps tissues heal after damage.
According to Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, a New York City registered nutritionist, chronic inflammation that occurs when the inflammatory response persists after the injury has healed is linked to diabetes, cancer, and high cholesterol.
Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, which means they can help reduce chronic inflammation. Foods high in EPA and DHA like salmon and sardines are more effective anti-inflammatory agents than the ALAs found in plants. Try to eat two to three servings of fatty fish a week for maximum benefit.
4. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce liver fat
Omega-3 fatty acids have shown promise in the treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD occurs when too much fat builds up in the liver and can cause symptoms such as abdominal swelling and an enlarged spleen.
A 2016 meta-analysis of studies with NAFLD patients found that omega-3 supplementation improved liver fat, optimized liver enzyme levels, and regulated blood fat levels.
5. Omega-3 fatty acids promote joint health
Rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that causes tender, swollen, and stiff joints, is associated with high levels of chronic inflammation. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the pain and stiffness associated with the condition.
A small 2016 study found that patients treated for rheumatoid arthritis who took omega-3 supplements (1.8 g EPA and 2.1 g DHA) twice a day for 12 weeks experienced less pain, had less joint swelling and more physical strength than those who received a placebo.
6. Omega-3 fatty acids promote healthy brain growth during pregnancy
DHA is the most important structural fatty acid in the central nervous system and is therefore critical to the normal development of the fetal brain. Therefore, it is especially important for pregnant women to consume enough DHA as 15% of brain development takes place in the womb.
How Much Omega-3 Should I Get?
According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily intake of omega-3s for each age group is:
However, this recommendation only applies to one type of omega-3 fatty acid: ALA, as it is the only omega-3 that is considered an essential nutrient, meaning the body cannot produce it on its own. There is no national recommendation for the other two types.
It is important to consume all three types of omega-3 fatty acids. Although your body can synthesize DHA and EPA from ALA consumption alone, it can’t synthesize enough to get the full health benefits of these types, says Cassetty.
For pregnant women
Because omega-3s are so important to the proper development of the fetus and newborn, women who are currently pregnant, breastfeeding, or may become pregnant should be careful about their omega-3 intake. Pregnant women should consume 8 to 12 ounces of fish per week. However, if you are pregnant, opt for low-mercury seafood as the mineral can damage fetuses.
Some low mercury, high omega-3 options include:
Food sources for omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, which means your body cannot produce them so you must consume them through your diet. They are found in both plant and animal products.
Most people can get enough omega-3 fatty acids through a varied diet. However, some groups of people who might want to consider omega-3 supplements include:
If you are supplementing with omega-3, be sure to tell your doctor as it can interact with blood pressure medications, hormonal contraceptives, and some weight loss pills.
Insider to take away
Omega-3 fatty acids are good for your health and can reduce your risk
, fight inflammation and reduce liver fat. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in sources such as nuts and fish. Talk to your doctor before taking omega-3 fatty acids to make sure this is the right decision for you and your health.