I started taking fish oil a few years ago, around the time I started Crossfit. Mind you, not the pills – direct shots of fish oil. Because … omega-3 fatty acids! Fight Inflammation! I didn’t really understand why I drank lemon-flavored fish juice every morning. I just had the general knowledge that omega-3s are good for you.
Which is problematic when, like me, you’re deep into the wellness scene. I could give you a laundry list of the benefits of turmeric, but if you asked me about the benefits of omega-3, would it be all good for your brain? Then I’d quickly switch the topic to something I know more about, like the latest documentary series on killers or the best dog accounts to follow on Instagram.
“There are over 22,000 scientific articles that demonstrate the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for the body and brain,” says Dr. William Sears, author of the Omega-3 Effect. But in my defense … most of them are difficult to understand. To understand the real benefits of omega-3, I turned to the experts. Here’s what they had to say.
1. They are really, really good for your brain
Boom, I got that right. “The brain is made up of 60 to 70 percent fat,” says Dr. Sears. And of this fat, he says that omega-3 fatty acids are the most important. “Consuming enough omega-3s is critical to relief from depression and other emotional disorders,” added board certified internist Jacob Teitelbaum, MD. A recent study showed that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce clinical anxiety. And a 2017 review found that there is some evidence that omega-3 supplements may help relieve symptoms of depression, although more research is needed.
There are also studies showing that omega-3 fatty acids (specifically DHA) help improve memory and cognitive skills. Research also shows that the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids make it a boon for people with ADHD too.
2. And they improve your blood circulation
“Omega-3 fatty acids act like a natural anticoagulant,” says Dr. Sears. In other words, it keeps your blood “sticky” – not exactly a scientific term, but it paints a pretty good picture. Dr. Sears also uses the words “slimy” and “slippery”. This is how you want your blood to be so that it can move easily through your veins. The better your blood circulation, the healthier all of your organs are. “Because it slows blood clotting, it can promote heart health while reducing the risk of stroke,” adds Dr. Teitelbaum added.
However, because of their relationship to blood circulation, omega-3 supplements are not the best idea for people who have blood thinners, have a bleeding disorder, or are taking medications that lower their blood pressure.
3. You also improve the health of your cell membranes
I know I almost fell asleep writing this sentence because who really thinks about the health of their cell membranes? But actually we should all think about it, because healthy cells are important for almost everything. “There is a medical truism that every organ in the body is only as healthy as every cell. Every cell is only as healthy as the membrane,” says Dr. Sears. And as we all hopefully know, every part of our body is made up of cells.
He describes the cell membrane as a “large round envelope” around the cells. “The number one structure that protects the integrity of the cell membrane is omega-3,” he explains. This protects them from inflammation and other damage, and helps them function properly.
4. They are great for your skin
Looking for that “I woke up like this” glow? Fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids help to strengthen the skin barrier, which prevents bad substances (germs, pollution, etc.) and good substances (moisture!) From coming out.
5. You can improve your baby’s health when you are pregnant
Folic acid gets a lot of love as a prenatal vitamin (and for good reason!), But omega-3 fatty acids are very important during pregnancy, too. “Research has shown that the benefits can extend throughout a child’s life – they help prevent asthma and reduce the risk of bipolar disorder and cancer (in women),” says Dr. Teitelbaum. A 2018 report also found that children of women who took omega-3 supplements while pregnant and breastfeeding were less likely to experience eczema and allergies. Just take mercury-free fish oil supplements to avoid the risk of mercury during pregnancy, says Dr. Teitelbaum.
Okay, where can I find that magic substance slash? Do i need more of this?
The best way to get omega-3s is with seafood – both fish and seaweed, says Dr. Sears. He says that wild Pacific salmon is the main source of omega-3 fatty acids as it also contains the antioxidant astaxanthin, which gives salmon its pink color and gives your omega-3 fatty acids additional anti-inflammatory effects.
You can also get omega-3s from plant sources like flax oil, but there is a catch. Your brain prefers long-chain fatty acids with 20 to 22 carbon atoms, explains Dr. Sears. EPA and DHA, the two omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood, are long-chain fatty acids. But the ALA omega-3 fatty acids from plant foods, not the sea, have only 18 carbon atoms. “So when you use something like flax oil, these little guys go through the liver, and the brain tells the liver that I need the big guys,” says Dr. Sears. The liver then attacks some carbon atoms, a process called conversion. But not everyone is a “good converter,” he says, which means that if you only rely on ALAs, you may not really get all of the benefits of these omega-3 fatty acids.
“To take off the guesswork, get your omega-3s tested with a simple finger pen blood test,” says Dr. Sears. He recommends Vital Check. You want your results to be around 8 percent absorption, which means 8 percent of the fats in your red blood cell membranes are omega-3s, he says.
When choosing a dietary supplement, Dr. Sears fish oil from Alaska and astaxanthin from Hawaii. (If you’re a vegan, it’s probably best to opt for a seaweed-based supplement rather than a flaxseed-based supplement to make sure you’re getting DHAs instead of just ALAs.) Just speak to your doctor first because, As mentioned earlier, omega-3 supplements can affect people who take blood thinners or other blood-related medications.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: There is nothing wrong with these benefits. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be on my way to find some salmon rolls.
Another reason to love omega-3s? They are great for your skin. Here’s how much fish oil to consume.