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Top 10 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

1. Omega-3s can fight depression and anxiety

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the world.

Symptoms include sadness, lethargy and a general loss of interest in life (  1  ,  2  ).

Anxiety, also a common disorder, is characterized by constant worry and nervousness (  3  ).

Interestingly, studies indicate that people who regularly consume omega-3s are less likely to be depressed (  4  ,  5  ).

Additionally, when people with depression or anxiety start taking omega-3 supplements, their symptoms improve (  6  ,  7  ,  8  ).

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA and DHA. Of the three, EPA appears to be the best for fighting depression (  9  ).

One study even found EPA to be as effective for depression as a common antidepressant (  10  ).

2. Omega-3s May Improve Eye Health

DHA, a type of omega-3, is a major structural component of the retina of the eye (  11  ).

When you don’t get enough DHA, vision problems can occur (  12  ,  13  ).

Interestingly, getting enough omega-3s is linked to a reduced risk of macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of permanent eye damage and blindness worldwide (  14  ,  15  ).

3. Omega-3s May Support Brain Health During Pregnancy and Early Life

Omega-3s are crucial for brain growth and development in infants.

DHA makes up 40% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids in your brain and 60% in the retina of your eye (  12  ,  16  ).

Therefore, it’s no surprise that infants fed formula fortified with DHA had better eyesight than infants fed formula without (  17  ).

Getting enough omega-3s during pregnancy is associated with many benefits for your child, including (  18  ,  19  ,  20  ):

  • higher intellect
  • Better communication and social skills
  • Fewer behavior problems
  • Reduced risk of developmental delay
  • Reduced risk of ADHD, autism and cerebral palsy
4. Omega-3s May Improve Heart Disease Risk Factors

Heart attacks and strokes are the leading causes of death worldwide (  21  ).

Decades ago, researchers observed that fish-eating communities had very low rates of these diseases. This has subsequently been linked to omega-3 consumption (  22  ,  23  ).

Since then, omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to many heart-healthy benefits (  24  ).

These advantages relate to:

  • Triglycerides:
    Omega-3s can cause a significant reduction in triglycerides, usually around 15–30%
    (  25  ,  26  ,  27  ).
  • Blood pressure:
    Omega-3s may lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure (  25  ,
    28  ).
  • “Good” HDL cholesterol:
    Omega-3s may increase “good” HDL cholesterol (  29  ,
    30  ,
    31  ).
  • Blood clots: Omega-3s can prevent
    blood platelets from clumping together. This helps prevent the formation of
    harmful blood clots (  32  ,  33  ).
  • Plaque: By keeping your arteries
    smooth and free of damage, omega-3s help prevent plaque that can narrow
    and harden your arteries (  34  ,  35  ).
  • Inflammation:
    Omega-3s reduce the production of certain substances released during
    your body’s inflammatory response (  36  ,  37  ,
    38  ).

For some people, omega-3s can also lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. However, the evidence is mixed — some studies find an increase in LDL (  39  ,  40  ).

Despite these beneficial effects on heart disease risk factors, there is no convincing evidence that omega-3 supplements can prevent heart attacks or strokes. Many studies find no benefit (  41  ,  42  ).

5. Omega-3s May Reduce ADHD Symptoms in Children

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity (  43  ).

Several studies note that children with ADHD have lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids than their healthy peers (  44  ,  45  ).

Additionally, numerous studies observe that omega-3 supplements can reduce ADHD symptoms.

Omega-3s help improve inattentiveness and task completion. They also decrease hyperactivity, impulsivity, restlessness and aggression (  46  ,  47  ,  48  ,  49  ).

Recently, researchers observed that fish oil supplements were one of the most promising treatments for ADHD (  50  ).

6. Omega-3s May Reduce Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions.

This includes central obesity — also known as belly fat — as well as high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high triglycerides, and low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.

It is a major public health problem because it increases the risk of many other diseases, including heart disease and diabetes (  51  ).

Omega-3 fatty acids may improve insulin resistance, inflammation and heart disease risk factors in people with metabolic syndrome (  52  ,  53  ,  54  ).

7. Omega-3s Can Fight Inflammation

Inflammation is a natural response to infections and damage in your body. It is therefore vital for your health.

However, the inflammation sometimes persists for a long time, even without infection or injury. This is called chronic or long-term inflammation.

Long-term inflammation can contribute to almost all chronic Western diseases, including heart disease and cancer (  55  ,  56  ,  57  ).

Notably, omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the production of molecules and substances linked to inflammation, such as inflammatory eicosanoids and cytokines (  58  ,  59  ).

Studies have consistently observed a link between increased omega-3 intake and reduced inflammation (  8  ,  60  ,  61  ).

8. Omega-3s Can Fight Autoimmune Diseases

In autoimmune diseases, your immune system mistakes healthy cells for foreign cells and begins to attack them.

Type 1 diabetes is a prime example, in which your immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas.

Omega-3s can fight some of these diseases and may be particularly important early in life.

Studies show that getting enough omega-3s in your first year of life is linked to a reduced risk of many autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, autoimmune diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. (  62  ,  63  ,  64  ).

Omega-3s also help treat lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis (  65  ,  66  ,  67  ,  68  ).

9. Omega-3s May Improve Mental Disorders

Low levels of omega-3s have been reported in people with psychiatric disorders (  69  ).

Studies suggest that omega-3 supplements may reduce the frequency of mood swings and relapses in people with both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (  69  ,  70  ,  71  ).

Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may also decrease violent behavior (  72 ).

10. Omega-3s May Fight Age-Related Mental Decline and Alzheimer’s Disease

The decline of brain function is one of the inevitable consequences of aging.

Several studies link increased omega-3 intake to less age-related mental decline and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease (  73  ,  74  ,  75  ).

A review of controlled studies suggests that omega-3 supplements may be beneficial early in the disease, when AD symptoms are very mild (  76  ).

Keep in mind that more research is needed on omega-3s and brain health.

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