5 Ways Omega-3s Improve Your Health, and How You Can Get More of Them

Not all fats are created equal. Case in point: omega-3 fatty acids, known as “healthy fats.” They’re packed with health benefits, from lowering your risk for heart disease to helping with anxiety. The best part? They’re found in many food sources, though you can also choose from over-the-counter omega-3 supplements .

But like any trendy health food, omega-3 fatty acids are surrounded by hype. Which benefits are backed by science, and are there any downsides to omega-3s or their supplements? We help you sort it out below.

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, are an essential part of the human diet. Unlike other fats that the body is capable of synthesizing (called non-essential fatty acids), omega-3s can’t be made from scratch. They’re vital for various bodily processes, such as making hormones for blood clotting, artery contraction and relaxation, and genetic functions. In other words, we need omega-3s, and we can only get them from food or supplements.

There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

Adding omega-3s to your diet

Food with high content of Omega-3 fats

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Different types of foods provide different omega-3 fatty acids. The first two types (EPA and DHA) are abundant in fish, which is why they’re commonly called “marine omega-3s.” The third type (ALA) is common in a variety of food sources, including certain oils, nuts, leafy vegetables and some meats.

The best sources of omega-3s include:

  • Herring
  • Wild salmon
  • Bluefin tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies
  • Lake trout
  • Striped bass
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Meat from grass-fed animals
  • Chia seeds
  • Canola oil

Fish, by far, is the best source of omega-3s. If you’re vegan or otherwise don’t eat seafood, you may need to work especially hard to get enough of these important fats in your diet. In that case, omega-3 supplements may be helpful, especially for EPA and DHA. Although your body naturally converts a small amount of ALA to DHA and EPA, it may be a good idea to make sure you’re consuming fish or supplements that include these.

Science-backed benefits of omega-3s

Capsules and diet rich in omega-3

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Scientists have noted a variety of benefits that may be associated with omega-3 fatty acids. Some of these have more evidence than others, so we’ll look at the most notable benefits with some of the most promising scientific support.

Lower your risk of heart disease

A wide array of studies has shown a connection between heart health and omega-3 fatty acids. These fats appear to have a positive impact on various aspects of cardiovascular health. Most notably, though, omega-3s have been correlated with more stable heart rhythm, lower blood pressure and heart rate, better blood vessel function, and lower levels of inflammation. 

Replacing saturated fats, such as red meat, butter and whole fat dairy, with unsaturated fats such as omega-3s may lower risk of developing heart disease.

Fight anxiety and depression

Although more research is needed as to the exact correlation between mental health and omega-3 intake, there appears to be strong evidence that these fats can help to reduce depression and anxiety for many people. EPA, in particular, has shown promising results as a treatment for mild-to-moderate depression.

Enhance eye health

Omega-3s — EPA and DHA in particular— play a major part in building the cellular makeup of our eyes. Not only do they help during our early stages of development, but research suggests a steady, adequate intake of these fats can help prevent vision problems, such as macular degeneration later in life.

Promote prenatal and infant brain development

Scientists are actively studying the general connection between omega-3s and brain health, particularly in the womb and during our early life. Some studies have shown that children of mothers who take omega-3 supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding may have better mental processing capabilities than those who don’t. Additionally, studies have shown that mothers who take DHA supplements can improve breast milk nutrition for infants, leading to better cognitive function and eyesight later in life.

Slow cognitive decline

Because of the connection between omega-3s and general brain health, it’s perhaps no surprise that some research supports that these fats may slow cognitive decline as we…

Read More: 5 Ways Omega-3s Improve Your Health, and How You Can Get More of Them

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