Omega-3 Fatty Acids

You may have heard that “healthy fats” are good for your health in numerous ways. You may have even heard about the potential benefits for psoriasis, but omega-3s may still be a mystery to you. Unlike other types of fat, omega-3 fatty acids are nutrients that you must get through food because your body can’t produce them. They may be beneficial to many chronic health conditions, including psoriasis, heart disease, and arthritis. Still, omega-3s shouldn’t be considered a cure-all for psoriasis or any other condition. Always ask your doctor before taking supplements or making any significant dietary changes. 

Omega-3s Explained

Simply put, omega-3 fatty acids are fats that are present in your cell membranes. They affect many bodily functions, from blood clotting to inflammation.

There are three kinds of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • alpha-linoleic acid (ALA): found in vegetable oils, seeds, and nuts
  • eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): found mainly in fish
  • docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): called a marine omega-3, also found in fish and shellfish  

ALA, EPA, and DHA are polyunsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats may not contribute to plaque buildup in your artery walls. They may also lower triglyceride levels and blood pressure levels in some people, which is why they’re good for heart health. 

The most health benefits exist in EPA and DHA because fish are more potent sources of fatty acids compared to plant-based versions. 

Omega-3s and Psoriasis

Omega-3s help psoriasis because of their possible role in inflammation. In psoriasis, which is an autoimmune disease, your immune system tells your skin cells to turn over at an abnormally rapid rate for unknown reasons. The result is redness, inflammation, and dry, scaly patches of skin that can cover almost any part of your body.

Immuno-suppressant drugs can control the progression of the disease and stop your body from attacking itself by decreasing the immune system’s overactivity.  Inflammation causes itching, pain, and discolors the skin.  Topical and oral immunosuppressants are the mainstay of treatment for psoriasis, but omega-3 fatty acids may enhance the management of your condition. 

Omega-3s may be used in conjunction with medical treatment for a long list of conditions, many of them autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, including: 

Omega-3 fatty acids may be effective in people with psoriasis. Psoriasis can interfere with both physical and mental functioning, just as cancer or depression does. The discomfort and loss of self-confidence associated with the skin rash can make the completion of everyday activities difficult and energy-draining. If boosting your intake of omega-3 may help you look and feel better, it’s certainly worth a try. 

As a bonus, since heart disease can be concurrent with psoriasis in some people, omega-3s have the potential to be beneficial for both conditions at once.

Natural Sources of Omega-3

Two out of the three types of omega-3 fatty acids are found mostly in fish and shellfish. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), you can get enough omega-3s in your diet by eating fish twice a week. At the same time, it’s important to know that not all fish are created equal. The highest sources of this nutrient are: 

  • albacore tuna
  • herring
  • mackerel
  • salmon
  • sardines
  • trout 

For those who love seafood, increasing consumption of this essential nutrient can be easy. But don’t worry if you’re not crazy about eating marine life. A number of other foods, including berries, green vegetables, and tofu also contain omega-3s.

When to Consider Omega-3 Supplements

Food is the best source for getting omega-3s in your diet. Still, not all sources of the nutrient cater to all tastes. At this point, you might consider supplementation. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, a half of a gram of DHA is used with one gram of EPA in some patients. Results may take up to eight weeks.

Speak to your doctor about taking fish oil supplements if your diet is lacking omega-3s. Overall, the AHA recommends no more than 3 grams (total) per day. Greater than 3 grams per day may put some individuals at higher risk for bleeding, so tell your doctor before taking this amount.  Look at supplement labels carefully to determine which omega-3s are offered. For example, some supplements contain DHA or EPA only, while others have a combination of the two.

The AHA also recommends this combination if you have high triglyceride levels. Such patients might need up to 4 grams per day. These high amounts are generally not needed in people with psoriasis. 

The downside to supplements is that they don’t absorb in the body as well as food.

Topical Omega-3 for Psoriasis

Since the effects of psoriasis mainly show up on the skin, there’s also potential for topical omega-3 to help. These come in the form of creams that purportedly alleviate pain and inflammation. Like oral supplements, topical omega-3 isn’t likely as beneficial as eating food. More research needs to be done in order to determine the effectiveness of topical omega-3s. 

Risks and Considerations

Omega-3s can be a potential health hazard for people taking blood-thinning medications. Also, if your intake is too high, you might experience side effects. Your risk is higher through supplementation. Such effects include: 

  • cramps
  • diarrhea
  • gas
  • nausea

The Takeaway

Despite the potential benefits of omega-3s for psoriasis, there’s no solid evidence that it treats or prevents any of its symptoms. Studies continue to look at the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3s and how this plays a role in psoriasis. In the meantime, it’s important to stick with your treatment plan as recommended by your doctor. You might also incorporate omega-3s, but you don’t want to rely solely upon them. 

Still, for most people, omega-3s are a heart-healthy source of fats. Food is the first choice for this nutrient, so ask your doctor or nutritionist how to incorporate this nutrient into your diet on a regular basis.