What Are Omega-3s?
Omega-3s are the group of fatty acids that are required by the body. They are obtained from animal and vegetable fats.
These are the good fats and involve three types of fatty acids that include:
- Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA): This acid comes from plant oils and is consumed in our food or supplements. Flaxseed and soybeans contain ALA.
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA): It is derived from animal fats and is important for neurological and cardiovascular health.
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA): It is derived from animals and is essential for brain and heart health. It is the longest molecule of the three acids.
Being deficient in omega-3s could put a person at risk of negative health effects.
Signs and Symptoms of Omega-3s Deficiency
There are numerous signs and symptoms that indicate omega-3s deficiency.
Skin Irritation and Dryness
Lack of omega-3s in the body is first seen on the skin. The skin gets sensitive, dry, and prone to acne.
A small study was done in which the women were given ½ teaspoon of ALA-rich flaxseed oil daily for 3 months. The women experienced a decrease in skin dryness and an increase in skin hydration by 40%(3).
In another study people with eczema were given omega-3 rich hemp seed oil. Eczema is a skin condition that is related to dry and irritated skin. The participants experienced a decrease in dryness and itchiness and less need to apply topical medication(4).
EPA and DHA supplements are known to reduce skin sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation(7).
Omega-3s have neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects.
An analysis of 26 studies found that participants taking omega-3s had beneficial effects on depressive symptoms(8).
A review of 6 studies concluded that consuming 1.3 grams of omega-3s per day can help in reducing mild to moderate depression symptoms in older adults(9).
Omega-3 fats play a role in improving eye health by maintaining eye moisture and tear production(10).
Healthcare professionals often prescribe omega-3 supplements for dry eye syndrome, a condition that includes eye discomfort and disturbed vision(11).
A study done on 64 adults found that omega-3 supplements improved dry eye symptoms, less tear evaporation, and more tear production(12).
An increase in eye dryness can be a symptom of a decrease in omega-3 fats in the body.
Joint Pain and Stiffness
Most people experience joint pain and stiffness as they get old. It can be due to osteoarthritis, a condition in which the cartilage covering the bone breaks down.
Just like omega-3 fats help in retaining moisture in the skin, they also help keep the hair healthy.
A study done on 120 females found, those taking omega-3 and omega-6 as daily supplements experienced reduced hair loss and increased hair density(15).
A study on dogs found EPA and DHA improved fatty acid composition in animal’s hair and skin(16).
How to Detect Omega-3 Deficiency?
There is no standard test that can diagnose omega-3 deficiency. However, there are ways to analyze the levels.
A blood sample is taken and the level of omega-3s in the blood fat or blood plasma is analyzed. It is expressed in total phospholipid fatty acid by weight.
Omega-3 status can also be assessed by analyzing the fatty acid composition of red blood cells.
How to Improve Omega-3 Levels?
Foods such as chia seeds and other plant foods contain omega-3 fat ALA. Animal-based foods contain DHA ad EPA.
Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sea bass, and sardines is the best source of EPA and DHA(17).
DHA and EPA supplements made of fish oil and krill oil can be taken. Vegan omega-3 derived from algae is also available and it is known to be more effective in increasing omega-3 status.
If concerned about omega-3 deficiency, it is best to speak with a healthcare provider or proper evaluation and treatment.