When it comes to fat, there’s one type you should definitely include in your diet – omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids, also known as n-3 fatty acids, are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are important for overall health.
Basically, there are three types of omega-3 fatty acids –alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that is found in plant oils, and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that are commonly found in marine oils.
Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development.
They are known as “essential” fatty acids as the body isn’t capable of producing them on its own. Therefore, you must rely on omega-3 foods in your diet to enjoy the health benefits.
Whenever possible, try to get omega-3 fatty acids from foods rather than supplements. Aim to eat fish high in DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids 2 or 3 times a week. Some types of fish that are rich in DHA and EPA are anchovies, bluefish, herring, mackerel, wild salmon, sardines and tuna.
Another important type of omega-3 fatty acid is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Some of the good food sources of ALA are walnuts, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, and canola oil.
Low or insufficient levels of important fatty acids can lead to a deficiency in the body. A deficiency in any nutrient can be detrimental to your health and cause several health problems.
Here are the top 10 signs and symptoms that your body needs more omega-3 fatty acids.
1. Heart Problems
The role of omega-3 fatty acids in cardiovascular disease is important. In fact, experts recommend eating a diet low in saturated fat and rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3 fatty acids) to prevent heart disease.
The fatty acids help reduce risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure, by slowing the development of plaque and blood clots, which can clog arteries. This is important to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and abnormal heart rhythms in people who are at a higher risk of suffering from heart disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids also help increase the level of good cholesterol (HDH or high-density lipoproteins) and reduce the level of bad cholesterol (LDL or low-density lipoproteins) in the body.
A 2014 study by Oxford University in England reports that fish-oil fatty acids with anti-inflammatory properties can help prevent and reverse a plethora of cardiovascular conditions.
Another study published in Circulation in 2016 found that people who took a high dose of fish oil for six months following a heart attack actually improved their hearts’ overall functioning and also reduced biomarkers of systemic inflammation.
2. Poor Mental Performance
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered to be crucial for memory and mental performance. They help build cell membranes in the brain, which are important for brain health.
Hence, a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids intake is important when it comes to efficient brain function. In fact, low intake can lead to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and poor academic performance.
A 2010 study published in Nutrients reports that low levels of omega-3 fatty acids may contribute to ADHD and related developmental and other mental health problems.
A 2011 study published in Nutrients reports that DHA has a positive role in neurodevelopment and the prevention of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders.
A 2012 study published in Clinical Nutrition Experimental reports that an increase in polyunsaturated fatty acids, specifically DHA, may improve literacy and behavior in children with ADHD. The greatest benefit may be observed in children who have learning difficulties.
Another 2012 study published in the Journal of Child Neurology also confirms the positive influence of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation in children with ADHD.
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, are highly effective in preventing and managing depression. In fact, a low level of this healthy fat in the body may increase the risk of depression as well as worsen the symptoms..
A 2007 study published in Psychiatry Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acid status is associated with variability in affect regulation, personality and impulse control.
A 2009 study published in CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics reports that omega-3 fatty acids were shown to be more effective than placebos for depression in both adults and children in small controlled studies and in an open study of bipolar depression.
A 2014 study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity highlights the role of omega-3s in preventing psychiatric diseases. It can maintain and increase the brain structures and preserve their function as well as prevent or decrease the inflammatory status occurring during depression.
4. Vision Problems
Failing eyesight or other eye problems are another sign of essential fatty acid deficiency. These fatty acids are an important component of fat molecules, which keep your eyes healthy.
They also aid proper drainage of intraocular fluid from the eye, thus decreasing the risk of high eye pressure and glaucoma. Dry eye syndrome also has been linked to omega-3 deficiency.
A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that people who consumed the most omega-3s were 30 percent less likely to develop macular degeneration than those who ate less. This study was carried out over 12 years.
A 2011 study published in the International Journal of Ophthalmology reports that cod liver oil (a good source of omega-3 fatty acids) can help treat glaucoma, a huge cause of vision impairment in the U.S.
Another study published in the International Journal of Ophthalmology in 2013 concludes that omega-3 fatty acids have a definite role in improving symptoms of dry eye syndrome. The benefit seems to be more marked in conditions such as blepharitis and meibomian gland disease.
A 2014 study published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science reports that dietary oily fish and seafood intake significantly lowers the risk of age-related macular degeneration.
5. Inflammation & Joint Pain
A low level of omega-3 fatty acids in the body may lead to inflamed joints, which in turn may cause rheumatoid arthritis.
The omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce pain and inflammation in the body. The fatty acids also help ease joint tenderness, decrease stiffness and may help lessen the need for medication.
In addition, these healthy fats may decrease symptoms of morning stiffness and tender or swollen joints, along with helping increase blood flow during exercise.
A 2006 study published in Surgical Neurology reports that omega-3 fish oil supplements worked just as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in reducing arthritic pain and are a safer alternative to NSAIDs.
A 2014 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine reports that borage seed oil – rich in gamma linolenic acid (GLA) – and fish oil rich in EPA and DHA helped in treating patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
6. Low Immunity
Low omega-3s in the body may contribute to weak immunity, making you more prone to common colds, infections and other health problems.
In fact, adequate amounts of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids help boost the immune system. The functions of the immune cells are enhanced by the DHA and EPA fatty acids.
At the same time, fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K need these fatty acids in order to be absorbed and stored by the body.
A 2002 study published in the Israel Medical Association Journal highlights the positive connection between omega-3 fatty acids and the immune system in autoimmune diseases. The study recommends the use of omega-3 fatty acids in the general healthy population, not only to prevent atherosclerosis but possibly also to reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases.
Another study published in the Annual Review of Nutrition in 2006 analyzed several studies and reports that, as per animal studies, fatty acids have powerful anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory activities in a wide array of diseases (e.g., autoimmunity, arthritis and infection). However, the evidence from human trials was more equivocal.
A later 2012 study published in Chemico-Biological Interactions reports that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial to health, in particular, by improving the immune response and lowering the risk of vascular and infectious diseases.
7. Weight Gain
When your diet lacks omega-3 fatty acids, you may have difficulty losing the extra pounds.
In fact, when you wish to lose weight, increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids and reduce your carbohydrate intake. Due to low carbohydrate intake, your body has no other option but to access stored fat for energy.
Omega-3 fatty acids can also lead to a higher resting metabolic rate and even speed up cell activity, which means your body can burn more calories.
These fatty acids also suppress appetite because of their effect on leptin levels, a hormone that affects appetite.
A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that a combination of fish oil supplements and regular exercise can reduce body fat, while also improving heart and metabolic health.
Again, a 2008 study published in Appetite reports that a diet rich in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids can modulate satiety in overweight and obese individuals.
8. Extremely Dry Skin
Another sign of an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency is dry, itchy or flaky skin.
These fatty acids are needed by the oil-producing glands, the skin’s natural moisturizers in your body. This is turn maintains healthy skin cell membranes and produces ample amounts of lipids.
Lipids help stop water from escaping through the skin, keeping it hydrated and smooth. It even prevents wrinkles and works against the aging process.
A 1995 study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology reports that fish oil leads to healthier skin by reducing inflammation. It can even reduce sun-induced inflammation.
Another study published in 2008 in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology highlights the positive effect of evening primrose oil capsules (a source of omega-6) on patients with atopic dermatitis.
9. Low Energy Level
If you have a low energy level despite getting sound sleep and rest, you may lack an adequate daily intake of fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats that your body needs for proper growth and development and normal brain function. In fact, these fats are the most concentrated source of energy for your body.
As the brain is composed largely of fatty acids, a low level of these fatty acids can lead to physical as well as mental fatigue.
When foods with omega-3 fatty acids are eaten along with carbohydrates, the fats actually slow the digestion of carbohydrates. This in turn improves insulin sensitivity and reduces the sugar crash that one experiences after eating simple carbohydrates like white bread or pasta.
10. Extremely Cold Hands and Feet
If you feel cold all the time, your body may lack the important omega-3 fatty acids.
These essential fatty acids help the body regulate its core temperature. These fats are found just beneath the skin, which aids in insulating the body and retaining heat. This is important for maintaining the correct body temperature as compared to the outside temperature.
In addition, these fatty acids protect the inner core from extreme temperature drops. This is important when you travel to places where there are frequent changes in temperature or climate.
Apart from an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency, magnesium and iron deficiencies can also make you feel cold all the time. Being underweight, having a low-performing thyroid or a peripheral vascular disease can also lead to this problem.