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December 19, 2021

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The Scientifically Proven Benefits

Maria Ugrinovski
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The Scientifically Proven Benefits
From hearts and livers to depression and anxiety, the benefits of Omega-3s are wide-ranging.

Omega-3 fatty acids offer many powerful health benefits to both our body and brain, and because they’ve been studied more thoroughly than most other nutrients, we can say with confidence that they’re essential to our diets.

Omega-3 fats are critical to the functioning of cell receptors in the body. They also act as the starting point for hormone production and are involved in controlling blood clotting, relaxing artery walls, and reducing inflammation. While the body is able to produce most of the fat it needs from other fats or raw materials, our bodies cannot produce essential fats, which is why it's important to include omega-3 fatty acids along with additional dietary fats in a healthy diet.

The best source of omega-3 fatty acids is either through foods such as fish, nuts (particularly walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables, or by taking supplements.

So, how can omega-3s help you?

Depression and Anxiety

Some of the most common mental health conditions today are depression and anxiety, but interestingly, studies have shown that people who consume omega-3 regularly are less likely to be depressed.

What's more, when some people with depression or anxiety started taking omega-3 supplements, their symptoms improved.

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA, and DHA. Of the three, EPA appears to be the best at fighting depression. 

Heart Health

The Heart Foundation recommends that all Australians aim for 1 gram of plant-sourced omega-3 (ALA) each day because these omega-3s can reduce risk factors for heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. 

In the past, researchers observed that communities that eat a lot of fish, or who eat diets high in monounsaturated fats like the Mediterranean diet, demonstrated lower rates of cardiovascular disease. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids have since been shown to have numerous health benefits for the heart, such as keeping arteries smooth and reducing inflammation.

It's important to note that although omega-3 supplements have beneficial effects on heart disease risk factors, no evidence exists that they can prevent heart attacks or strokes altogether, so it’s important to talk to your GP about any risks and supplements. 

Sports Performance

Omegas can provide a potential anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity that may offer health benefits and performance improvement, especially in those who exercise regularly. They are known to improve exercise efficiency, enhance recovery from exercise, or assist in injury prevention during intense training. 

In this respect, omega-3 has been recently considered an ergogenic supplement, which may have a role in these processes, which not only contrasts exercise-induced inflammation but also improves muscle health and energy availability.

Liver Health

NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) is more common than you think.

The obesity epidemic has become the most common cause of chronic liver disease in the West, and it's been reported that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids can effectively reduce liver fat and inflammation in people with NAFLD. 

Bones and Joints 

The skeletal system is commonly affected by osteoporosis and arthritis.

Several studies have shown that omega-3s can improve bone strength by boosting bone calcium, reducing the risk of osteoporosis.

Omega-3 fatty acids may also treat arthritis. Studies report a reduction in joint pain and a boost in grip strength when patients take omega-3 supplements. 

Menstrual Pain

Pain during menstruation typically occurs in the lower abdomen and pelvis and often radiates to the lower back and thighs. For some, this pain can significantly affect their quality of life, but studies show that women who consume a lot of omega-3s report milder menstrual symptoms. 

In one study, omega-3 supplements were more effective than ibuprofen in treating severe menstrual pain.

Sleep Quality

Some studies link sleep deprivation to diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and depression, while the hormone melatonin, which aids in sleep, may also be influenced by DHA levels.

There is evidence that supplementing with omega-3 increases sleep duration and quality in children and adults.

In A Nutshell

The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids cannot be overstated and the best way to ensure a good omega-3 intake is to consume omega-rich foods such as fatty fish twice a week as part of your diet.

However, if you’re not a fan of fish or you just don’t include a lot of it in your diet, you may want to consider taking an omega-3 supplement to get these beneficial fatty acids.

If you liked this article, you might like our feature about the benefits of Vitamin D.

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