Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important.
They can have all sorts of powerful health benefits for your body and brain.
In fact, few nutrients have been studied as thoroughly as omega-3 fatty acids.
Here are 17 health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids that are supported by science.
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the world.
Anxiety is also a very common disorder, and is characterized by constant worry and nervousness (3). Interestingly, studies have found that people who consume omega-3s regularly are less likely to be depressed (4, 5).
One study even found EPA to be as effective against depression as Prozac, an antidepressant drug (10).
Bottom Line: Omega-3 supplements may help prevent and treat depression and anxiety. EPA seems to be the most effective at fighting depression.
DHA, a type of omega-3, is a major structural component of the brain and retina of the eye (11).
Bottom Line: An omega-3 fatty acid called DHA is a major structural component of the retina of the eye. It may help prevent macular degeneration, which can cause vision impairment and blindness.
Omega-3s are crucial for brain growth and development in infants.
Therefore, it's no surprise that infants fed a DHA-fortified formula have better eyesight than infants fed a formula without it (17).
- Higher intelligence.
- Better communication and social skills.
- Less behavioral problems.
- Decreased risk of developmental delay.
- Decreased risk of ADHD, autism and cerebral palsy.
Bottom Line: Getting enough omega-3s during pregnancy and early life is crucial for the development of the child. Deficiency is linked to low intelligence, poor eyesight and an increased risk of several health problems.
Heart attacks and strokes are the world's leading causes of death (21).
Since then, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have numerous benefits for heart health (24).
- Triglycerides: Omega-3s can cause a major reduction in triglycerides, usually in the range of 15–30% (25, 26, 27).
- Blood pressure: Omega-3s can reduce blood pressure levels in people with high blood pressure (25, 28).
- HDL-cholesterol: Omega-3s can raise HDL (the "good") cholesterol levels (29, 30, 31)
- Blood clots: Omega-3s can keep blood platelets from clumping together. This helps prevent the formation of harmful blood clots (32, 33).
- Plaque: By keeping the arteries smooth and free from damage, omega-3s help prevent the plaque that can restrict and harden the arteries (34, 35).
- Inflammation: Omega-3s reduce the production of some substances released during the inflammatory response (36, 37, 38).
Interestingly, despite all these beneficial effects on heart disease risk factors, there is no convincing evidence that omega-3 supplements can prevent heart attacks or strokes. Many studies find no benefit (41, 42).
Bottom Line: Omega-3s have been found to improve numerous heart disease risk factors. However, omega-3 supplements do not reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity (43).
What's more, numerous studies have found that omega-3 supplements can actually reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
Recently, researchers evaluated the evidence behind different treatments for ADHD. They found fish oil supplementation to be one of the most promising treatments (50).
Bottom Line: Omega-3 supplements can reduce the symptoms of ADHD in children. They improve attention and reduce hyperactivity, impulsiveness and aggression, to name a few.
Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions.
It is a major public health concern, since it increases your risk of developing many other diseases. These include heart disease and diabetes (51).
Bottom Line: Omega-3s can have numerous benefits for people with metabolic syndrome. They can reduce insulin resistance, fight inflammation and improve several heart disease risk factors.
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 being present. This is called chronic (long-term) inflammation.
Bottom Line: Omega-3s can reduce chronic inflammation, which can contribute to heart disease, cancer and various other diseases.
In autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakes healthy cells for foreign cells and starts attacking them.
Type 1 diabetes is one prime example. In this disease, the immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
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 (62, 63, 64).
Bottom Line: Omega-3 fatty acids can help fight several autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease and psoriasis.
Low omega-3 levels have been reported in people with psychiatric disorders (69).
Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may also decrease violent behavior (72).
Bottom Line: People with mental disorders often have low blood levels of omega-3 fats. Improving omega-3 status seems to improve symptoms.
A decline in brain function is one of the unavoidable consequences of aging.
Additionally, one study found that people who eat fatty fish tend to have more gray matter in the brain. This is brain tissue that processes information, memories and emotions (76).
Bottom Line: Omega-3 fats may help prevent age-related mental decline and Alzheimer's disease, but more research is needed.
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 (77, 78). Additionally, omega-3 consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. However, not all studies agree on this (79, 80, 81).
Bottom Line: Omega-3 intake may decrease the risk of some types of cancer, including colon, prostate and breast cancer.
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 (82).
Bottom Line: Omega-3 intake has been associated with a lower risk of asthma in both children and young adults.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) 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 (85).
Bottom Line: Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce liver fat in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Osteoporosis and arthritis are two common disorders that affect the skeletal system.
Bottom Line: Omega-3s can improve bone strength and joint health. This may lead to a reduced risk of osteoporosis and arthritis.
Menstrual pain occurs in the lower abdomen and pelvis, and often radiates to the lower back and thighs.
It can result in significant negative effects on a person's quality of life.
One study even found that an omega-3 supplement was more effective than ibuprofen in treating severe pain during menstruation (93).
Bottom Line: Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce menstrual pain. One study even found that an omega-3 supplement was more effective than ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug.
Good sleep is one of the foundations of optimal health.
Low levels of DHA have also been linked to lower levels of the hormone melatonin, which helps you fall asleep (100).
Bottom Line: Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, may improve the length and quality of sleep in children and adults.
DHA is a structural component of the skin. It is responsible for the health of cell membranes, which make up a large part of skin.
A healthy cell membrane results in soft, moist, supple and wrinkle-free skin.
- Managing oil production in skin.
- Managing hydration of the skin.
- Preventing hyperkeratinization of hair follicles (the little red bumps often seen on upper arms).
- Preventing premature ageing of the skin.
- Preventing acne.
Omega-3s can also protect your skin from sun damage. EPA helps block the release of substances that eat away at the collagen in your skin after sun exposure (101).
Bottom Line: Omega-3s can help keep skin cells healthy, preventing premature aging and more. They may also help protect the skin from sun damage.
Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important for optimal health.
Getting them from whole foods, such as eating fatty fish 2 times per week, is the best way to ensure optimal omega-3 intake.
However, if you don't eat a lot of fatty fish, then you may want to consider taking an omega-3 supplement.
For people who are lacking in omega-3, this is a cheap and highly effective way to improve health.
You can find more info about omega-3 fatty acids on this page: Omega-3 Fatty Acids – The Ultimate Beginner's Guide.