Seven science-backed benefits of omega-3 fatty acids
From improving cardiovascular health to boosting immunity, the reported benefits of omega-3 have seen fish oil become one of the most sought-after dietary supplements. But are there really tangible health gains to be made from upping your daily intake of omega-3?
Omega-3 is an umbrella term used to describe a group of unsaturated fatty acids with a specific double bond in their chemical structure, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
“They are known as ‘essential fatty acids’ as our bodies cannot create them, and we can only get them through our diet,” says Dr. Claire Thomas, medical doctor and clinical content lead at Evergreen Life. “Other than dietary supplements, there are some great sources of omega-3 found in other foodstuffs. Unsurprisingly, oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and herring are full of omega-3. Walnuts, soya beans, and chia and flax seeds are also great meat-free options.”
Scientists have been studying the potential benefits of omega-3 for years. According to the Nutrients journal, these nutrients have been shown to be the key factor in reducing inflammation levels, a major risk factor for multiple chronic diseases. In fact, omega-3 could be crucial to our cardiovascular, nervous, and immune systems.
“Some studies indicate its anti-inflammatory properties may also have benefits for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory and degenerative joint conditions and inflammatory bowel diseases” says Thomas.
Here, we take a deep dive into the science of essential fatty acids to give you a better understanding of how these nutrients can impact our mind and body.
One of the most widely researched benefits of omega-3 applies to our cardiovascular system, with most studies suggesting that it has a highly protective effect on our heart. According to a major Cochrane systematic review, these fatty acids may significantly reduce the risk of dying from coronary heart disease and cardiac events, while ALA may also help prevent arrhythmia.
Omega-3 can boost our cardiovascular health in several ways. “They are fundamental in making hormones that regulate blood clotting, the contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation,” says Abbas Kanani, pharmacist at Chemist Click. “This can be beneficial for cardiovascular disease as they work to reduce plaque in the heart's arteries.
Omega-3 fatty acids may also improve the functioning of the endothelium — a thin membrane that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels. As described in the Atherosclerosis journal, that is because they may help control how much fluid is carried with the blood, and how blood vessels dilate and constrict.
Studies done on overweight patients with metabolic syndrome have also shown that omega-3 may help balance blood lipids, particularly by reducing levels of the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.
However, it needs to be pointed out that quite a significant number of studies throughout the years did not show any significant links between omega-3 and heart health. Scientists suggest that these differences may have been linked to the doses used in tests.
Recently, scientists have discovered another potential benefit of omega-3 — a healthier immune system. Studies have shown that these fatty acids may affect the composition of our gut microbes, which in turn may have a positive impact on our gut health. Since our digestive system is the first line of defense against harmful microbes, omega-3 may have an indirect, yet wide-ranging, effect on our whole immune system.
These fatty acids have also been shown to stimulate the production of antibodies and regulate the functioning of white blood cells, as described in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
Scientists from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggest that these fatty acids may even protect against neovascular eye diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration. Both of these conditions may lead to blindness, and they both lack treatment options that would be free of adverse side effects.
One of the lesser known benefits of omega-3, and EPA in particular, is that it may contribute to healthier skin.
Omega-3 may help improve the skin hydration and balance out its oil production, as well as reduce the risk of premature aging.
As reported in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, combined omega-3 and omega-6 supplementation appears to be effective at treating the symptoms of atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and acne.
Source: Live Science