Are You Omega-3 Deficient?
Healthcare professionals and media outlets have long touted the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. These are vital in our diet to support brain, eye, immune, and skin health. However, our bodies can't make omega-3s, so obtaining them from foods or supplements is essential.
What are omega-3s?
Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid—one of the healthy fats and can be found in animal and plant foods. As the name suggests, omega-3 contains three types of fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). These three work together to help our bodies produce signaling molecules that help your cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and pulmonary systems work correctly.
Deficiency in omega-3s may put you at risk of adverse health effects. Unfortunately, there's still no standard test to diagnose an omega-3 deficiency; but some signs can warn you if you're suffering from low omega-3 levels.
Skin irritation and dryness
If you suddenly have sensitive, dry skin or notice an unusual increase in acne, your body may lack omega-3 fats. This is typically one of the first tell-tale signs, as omega-3 is known to improve the integrity of the skin barrier. And a strong skin barrier helps prevent moisture loss and protect the skin from irritants that cause irritation and dryness.
Several studies support this claim. In one small study, researchers gave women a daily dose of ½ teaspoon of ALA-rich flaxseed oil for three months. The participants who took it reported decreased skin roughness and increased skin hydration by nearly 40% compared with those who received a placebo.
Another study looked into the effect of omega-3 supplementation in people who suffer from atopic dermatitis or eczema. After 20 weeks of taking omega-3-rich hempseed oil, the participants reported decreased itchiness and dryness and a reduced need for topical medication.
Brittle and thinning hair
Like your skin, your hair can tell you if you need more omega-3, particularly if your strands become frizzy, dry, dull, or even fall out.
In one six-month study, researchers gave 120 female participants omega-3s, along with omega-6, in a daily supplement. Those who had taken the supplement reported reduced hair loss and increased hair density compared to the control group.
Joint pain and stiffness
While old age typically comes with increased joint pain and stiffness, it's also highly likely that your omega-3 levels are low.
Research has found that taking omega-3 supplements helps reduce joint pain and increase grip strength—typical symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. So, increasing your omega-3-rich foods or supplementing with the fatty acid may help lower your overall inflammation, relieving joint pain and stiffness.
If you've been experiencing increased eye dryness, it could be a sign that your diet lacks omega-3 fats—essential for maintaining eye health and keeping your eyes moist. Because of this, healthcare professionals often recommend omega-3 supplements to treat the discomfort and vision problems that come with dry eye syndrome.
Researchers analyzed 17 studies involving a total of 3,363 individuals and discovered that those who took omega-3 supplements experienced a decrease in dry eye symptoms compared to those who took a placebo.
While numerous factors can cause depression, investigating your diet may help relieve it. Omega-3 fats are essential for optimal brain function. They are known to have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.
Studies have shown a link between low omega-3 levels and a higher incidence of depression. Based on a review of 26 studies involving 2,160 participants, it has been found that taking omega-3 supplements—with at least 60% EPA taken in a dosage of one gram or less per day—can positively impact depressive symptoms.
If you think you're suffering from depression, please consult your doctor first so you can be screened for depression and receive appropriate treatment strategies.
How to improve omega-3 levels?
You can tweak your diet to include ALA-rich foods, like chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts. As for your dose of EPA and DHA, add animal-based foods, like herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, and sea bass.
You can also take omega-3 supplements. However, if you're experiencing a severe deficiency, it's best to speak with your healthcare provider, who can recommend appropriate supplements.