The benefits of omega-3 fatty acid are seemingly endless, even more so if you consume it from the source. The most common source of omega-3 is fish oil, either directly from eating fish or as a supplement. However, walnuts and flaxseeds are also excellent sources of omega-3.
Studies have found that fish oil supplements can also be very beneficial for everything from mental health to better skin, from dry eyes to fertility. Here are just a few of the top benefits of regularly consuming fish oil.
Eye Health: Not only does fish oil reduce eye dryness, increase tear production, and improve vision, but studies have shown that regular intake of fish oil can reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration. Proper intake of fish oils can also reduce eye pressure and the risk of glaucoma.
Mental Health: Healthy fats are a key component of a healthy brain. They help to prevent loss of important neurotransmitters. According to a 2011 study, regular fish oil intake reduces anxiety even among those with low levels of baseline anxiety. Other studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can help restore a balanced mood and that large doses of fish oil can reduce the symptoms of severe bipolar disorder even in drug-resistant patients.
Heart Health: An imbalance of omega-3 and omega-6 can lead to heart disease. Regular intake of fish oil can reduce blood pressure, which can improve heart health. However, studies have found that consuming omega-3 supplements is not as effective for heart health as actually eating fish.
Brain Health: The fatty acids found in fish are essential for brain health. Fish oil not only helps improve memory and cognition but also can reduce and prevent cognitive decline in aging adults and the atrophy that leads to Alzheimer's disease. Much like with heart health, however, supplements are not as effective as actually eating natural sources of omega-3.
The first time that a doctor suggested I take fish oil it was to reduce brain fog along with symptoms of anxiety and depression. I didn't stick with it and saw no improvement. At the time, I just couldn't see how one supplement could do so many things.
Years later, I tried fish oil again. By then I'd learned that there is a difference between omega-6 and omega-3 and that it's important to have a very high ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. Our standard diet is already high in omega-6. Despite knowing this, it still took me a while to find a brand that worked well for me.
When comparing why one fish oil might work and another might not it's also important to understand the types of omega-3. There are three types: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is found in walnuts and flaxseeds and converts to EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are both are found in fish, while DHA is also found in algae. EPA helps lessen inflammation in the body, which can reduce joint pain and improve eye health. DHA improves brain health and function. Therefore, you may want to compare fish oils and find the one with the higher amount of the omega-3 type that helps your specific symptoms.
The Brand Matters
Less than a year after I started taking a quality fish oil I found that not only had my joint pain and dry eyes improved, but so had my vision. When I had my eyes checked it initially seemed like they must be getting worse because with my glasses on I wasn't seeing as clearly. However, they had actually improved. These days I don't need my glasses as often.
A few months ago I ran across a deal for a new brand of fish oil. The numbers looked good so I gave it a shot. Unfortunately, this was when I learned that brand matters when it comes to quality and purity of the fish oil. Despite a number of great reviews for the product on Amazon, within just a few days I noticed that my eyes were returning to a state of extreme dryness, my vision was getting blurrier, and I was feeling more pain. Fortunately, I put two and two together and switched back to my previous brand of fish oil and those symptoms cleared up just as fast as they'd returned.
It seems that the list of omega-3 benefits is endless. As more research is completed, however, it becomes more apparent that as with any nutrient, the closer to the source you can get the better. Rather than relying on supplements, we need to increase omega-3 intake by eating more fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Belury, M. A., Andridge, R., Malarkey, W. B., & Glaser, R. (2011). Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: a randomized controlled trial. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 25(8), 1725-1734.
Rizos, E. C., Ntzani, E. E., Bika, E., Kostapanos, M. S., & Elisaf, M. S. (2012). Association between omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and risk of major cardiovascular disease events: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Jama, 308(10), 1024-1033.
Sarris, J., Mischoulon, D., & Schweitzer, I. (2012). Omega-3 for bipolar disorder: meta-analyses of use in mania and bipolar depression. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 73(1), 81-86.
Yashodhara, B. M., Umakanth, S., Pappachan, J. M., Bhat, S. K., Kamath, R., & Choo, B. H. (2009). Omega-3 fatty acids: a comprehensive review of their role in health and disease. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 85(1000), 84-90.