7 Science-backed health benefits of eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids By Zoey Sky for Food Science
Research suggests that omega-3s offer many health benefits, such as improving your heart health and boosting immunity.
Detailed below are seven amazing benefits of eating superfoods or taking supplements rich in omega-3s.
What are omega-3s?
Omega-3 refers to a group of unsaturated fatty acids with a specific double bond in their chemical structure like alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
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According to Dr. Claire Thomas, a medical doctor and clinical content lead at Evergreen Life, omega-3s are called “essential fatty acids” since the human body is unable to produce them. You can only get omega-3s through your diet.
You can boost your intake of omega-3s by taking dietary supplements and eating animal or food sources, such as:
- Anchovies (2,053 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams))
- Caviar (6,540 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams))
- Cod liver oil (2,438 mg per serving (1 tablespoon))
- Herring (2,150 mg per ounces (100 grams))
- Mackerel (4,580 mg per ounces (100 grams))
- Oysters (391 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams))
- Salmon (982 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams))
- Chia seeds (5,050 mg of ALA per ounce (28 grams))
- Flaxseeds (2,350 mg of ALA per tablespoon (10.3 grams) of whole seeds, or 7,260 mg per tablespoon (13.6 grams) of oil)
- Soybeans (670 mg of ALA in a 1/2 cup (47 grams) of dry roasted soybeans, or 1,440 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams))
- Walnuts (2,570 mg of ALA per ounce (28 grams), or about 14 walnut halves )
Researchers have also been studying the potential health benefits of omega-3.
According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, these nutrients may be the key factor in reducing inflammation levels, a major risk factor for several chronic diseases. Data also suggests that omega-3 could be crucial to your cardiovascular, nervous and immune systems.
Thomas said that some studies suggest that the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s may also offer benefits for health problems like rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory and degenerative joint conditions, along with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
Here are seven reasons to incorporate foods rich in omega-3s into your regular diet.
Omega-3s help improve brain health
Data has found that omega-3s may be essential for the proper functioning of your central nervous system, especially the brain.
The results of a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Science revealed that omega-3s may help prevent or slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s.
Experts believe there are several reasons why omega-3s are good for the nervous system.
In an article in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, scientists reported that omega-3s are found in abundance in the brain cell membranes. They added that the compounds may affect how neurons communicate with each other.
In another review published in the journal Nutrients, data showed that DHA is one of the key components of healthy brain and eye development. The fatty acid may also have a crucial role in mental health throughout early childhood.
Data from the article revealed that low intake of omega-3 may increase the risk of developing conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, bipolar disorder and depression.
Research suggests that people who regularly consume omega-3 are less likely to experience depression.
Omega-3s help boost heart health
Many studies have been conducted to determine the benefits of omega-3s for cardiovascular health and many studies suggest that the compounds offer significant protective effects on the heart.
The results of a major Cochrane systematic review found that omega-3s may significantly reduce the risk of dying from coronary heart disease and cardiac events. It also showed that ALA may help prevent arrhythmia.
Omega-3 can boost your heart health in several ways. The compounds produce hormones that regulate blood clotting, the contraction and relaxation of artery walls and inflammation in the body. This can be beneficial for preventing heart disease as the compounds work to reduce plaque in the heart’s arteries.
Omega-3s may also improve the functioning of the endothelium, the thin membrane that lines the inside of your heart and blood vessels. According to a study from the journal Atherosclerosis, the compounds may help control how much fluid is carried with the blood, and how your blood vessels dilate and constrict.
Findings from research conducted on overweight patients with metabolic syndrome have revealed that the compounds may help balance blood lipids, particularly by reducing levels of LDL cholesterol or “bad” cholesterol.
Omega-3s support immune health
Studies have also revealed that omega-3s may have another potential benefit: boosting your immune health.
Some studies suggest that omega-3s may affect the composition of your gut microbes. This can then have a positive impact on your gut health.
Because your digestive system is the first line of defense against harmful microbes, omega-3 may have an indirect but wide-ranging effect on your whole immune system.
In a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, researchers reported that omega-3s can stimulate the production of antibodies and regulate the functioning of white blood cells.
Omega-3s support eye health
Omega-3 is a significant structural component of the retina so it’s no surprise that it also has a crucial role in eye health.
Your retina captures the light that enters your eye and translates it into the images you see. Without omega-3s, you may experience problems with your eyesight.
Omega-3 helps optimize “the variability of photoreceptor membranes, retinal thickness, function and provides a protective role.” Additionally, healthy levels of DHA can help prevent damage from bright light exposure and oxidative stress.
In research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists reported that omega-3s may help prevent neovascular eye diseases like diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration. Both conditions may cause blindness and they both lack treatment options that don’t have any negative side effects. (Related: Healthy skin, vision and mood: 3 Lesser-known benefits of taking omega-3 supplements.)
Omega-3s support skin health
Omega-3s, especially EPA, can help promote healthier skin.
Getting enough EPA helps keep your skin moisturized and also reduces the risk and effects of acne.
As documented in a study published in the journal Clinics in Dermatology, the compounds may help improve skin hydration and balance out its oil production. Omega-3s can also help reduce the risk of premature aging.
Additionally, omega-3s may have a role in the effective management of inflammatory skin diseases.
In another study from the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, scientists discovered that the combined omega-3 and omega-6 supplementation was effective at treating symptoms of skin conditions like acne, atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.
Omega-3s help improve bone health
In a review from the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that many studies suggest omega-3s may help improve bone mineral density and several bone turnover markers.
In a meta-analysis published in the journal Climacteric, results showed that omega-3 may specifically affect the levels of osteocalcin in postmenopausal women.
Osteocalcin is a protein hormone with a role in maintaining and regenerating bone tissue. This is crucial because postmenopausal women are at high risk of developing osteoporosis.
Experts also discovered that different sources of omega-3 may have a different effects on bone remodeling processes. Flaxseed oil may be better at improving bone structure and fish oil may help boost bone mineral density.
According to scientific data, the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 can help reduce pain intensity in many of the body’s joints. Research also suggests that the compounds can help improve joint pain in those with rheumatoid arthritis.
Omega-3s also form the support for prostaglandins, which regulate your immune system and protect against joint inflammation.
Omega-3s help improve sleep quality
Lastly, studies have found that omega-3 may have a role in sleep regulation.
In one article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, data found that those with higher regular intakes of omega-3s seem to need less sleep.
Omega-3s may also help improve sleep in infants since the compounds help organize and mature their sleep-wake routine without affecting total sleep duration or efficiency.