Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats you must get from food sources. If you don’t get omega-3 fatty acids from food sources, then you may have omega-3 deficiency.
Symptoms of omega-3 deficiency can include skin irritation, brittle or thinning hair, joint pain and stiffness, brain fog, dry eyes, and fatigue.
Fortunately, omega-3 deficiency is easy to address: you can take an omega-3 supplement or add more of certain types of food to your diet.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about omega-3 fatty acid deficiency, including symptoms and possible solution.
How Omega-3 Fatty Acids Work
Your body needs multiple types of fats to function. Your body can make most of the fats it needs on its own.
Your body cannot, however, make omega-3 fatty acids. They’re considered essential fats, which means your body cannot make these fats on its own. Instead, you need to get omega-3 fatty acids from food sources.
Omega-3 fatty acids play critical roles throughout the body. Studies have linked omega-3 fatty acids to cardiovascular health, hormone production, and critical tasks at the cellular level.
There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids, including:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
ALA is the most common omega-3 fatty acid. It’s the type found in vegetable oils, nuts, and leafy vegetables. EPA and DHA, meanwhile, are considered marine omega-3 fats because they mostly come from fish.
10 Common Symptoms of Omega-3 Deficiency
If you’re deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, then you could experience a range of symptoms – from minor issues to major symptoms to no symptoms whatsoever.
Here are the 10 most common signs you may have omega-3 deficiency:
- Skin Irritation & Dryness: One of the first symptoms of omega-3 deficiency is skin dryness or irritation. Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for supporting your skin’s barrier effect, and increased skin inflammation or other issues could be a sign you’re deficient in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Dry Eyes: Your eyes rely on omega-3 fatty acids to stay lubricated.
- Joint Pain & Stiffness: Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for keeping joints healthy and controlling inflammation. Lack of omega-3 fatty acid could increase joint pain issues.
- Changes in Hair Quality or Thinning Hair: Changes to hair could indicate an omega-3 deficiency. Your hair needs omega-3 fatty acids for good structure, and poor hair quality or a sensitive scalp could indicate omega-3 fatty acid deficiency.
- Increased Dandruff: In addition to a sensitive scalp, you could notice increased dandruff because of your omega 3 deficiency.
- Brittle Nails: Omega-3 affects more than just your hair; it also affects your nails. Brittle, thinning, nails could be a sign of omega-3 deficiency.
- Mental Fog: Omega-3 is crucial for cognition, and some studies have even connected omega-3 fatty acids to degenerative brain conditions. If you experience symptoms of mental fog – including confusion, poor concentration, and lack of attention – then it could be omega 3 deficiency.
- Depression or Mood Changes: There’s some evidence omega-3 is important for mood, and some studies have connected depression and other cognitive conditions to omega-3 fatty acids.
- General Fatigue: Do you regularly feel tired? You could be deficient in omega-3.
- Increased Thirst & Other Signs of Dehydration: If you regularly feel thirsty or have a dry mouth and throat, then it could be a sign of omega 3 deficiency.
Surprisingly, some people with omega-3 deficiency also experience excessive buildup of earwax because of their condition.
Science-Backed Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Researchers have linked omega-3 fatty acids to a range of effects – from cognition to heart health. Below, we’ll review some of the scientific evidence explaining why omega-3 fatty acids are critical for multiple aspects of health.
Omega-3 fatty acids appear to be beneficial for heart health, and multiple studies have validated this claim.
Studies suggest omega-3 fatty acids help with cholesterol, blood pressure, and overall heart disease:
- A 2007 study, for example, found the polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish oil were linked to a lower risk of fatal cardiac events. In that study, researchers were attempting to determine why people who ate fish regularly tended to have better cardiovascular health than people who did not.
- A separate study from 1999 examined the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplements on heart attack survivors. Participants took 1g of omega-3 fatty acids every day for three years. In a follow-up, researchers found participants in the omega-3 fatty acid group were significantly less likely to experience a second heart attack, stroke, or sudden cardiac event than a group taking a placebo. In fact, those in the omega-3 fatty acid group had a 50% lower risk of sudden cardiac death.
- Another study involving 18,645 patients examined the effects of 1,800mg of EPA with statin versus statin only. Researchers found sudden cardiac death and coronary death did not differ between groups, although patients in the EPA group had a 19% relative reduction in major coronary events overall.
For all of these reasons and more, doctors may recommend omega-3 fatty acid supplements to anyone concerned about cardiovascular health.
Diabetes & Cholesterol
Diabetics tend to have higher cholesterol levels than non-diabetics. Taking omega-3 fatty acids can help lower triglycerides and raise HDL, helping diabetics support overall heart health.
Studies suggest diabetics can particularly benefit from EPA and DHA as opposed to ALA (which comes from flaxseed and certain types of nuts). In other words, fish-based omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial.
As Mount Sinai explains, studies suggest omega-3 fatty acids could help people with osteoarthritis, although more research is needed to verify this connection.
Studies have found omega-3 fatty acids could reduce joint stiffness and pain, improve grip strength, and increase walking pace in people with osteoarthritis, for example. Meanwhile, a large review found some people with osteoarthritis experienced significant pain relief after taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
Cognition & Certain Cognitive Conditions
Omega-3 fatty acids appear to impact the brain and overall cognition in multiple ways. Some studies have even linked omega-3 fatty acid supplementation to relief from certain cognitive conditions.
- In a 2015 review published in Integrative Medicine Research, researchers found a connection between omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and relief from depression. Researchers found multiple studies showing omega-3 fatty acids were “proving to be very effective against the treatment of major depression disorder” and certain other psychiatric disorders. However, researchers cautioned more evidence was needed to verify this connection.
- Some small studies have also connected omega-3 fatty acid supplementation to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, with people relieving certain symptoms of either condition with omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
- Other studies suggest children with ADHD tend to have lower levels of essential fatty acids (including EPA and DHA) than children without ADHD. However, studies have not conclusively determined omega-3 fatty acid supplements can reduce symptoms of ADHD.
- There’s some evidence omega-3 fatty acid supplements have protective effects against Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other degenerative cognitive conditions. Many people take omega-3 fatty acid supplements daily for that reason. According to the Alzheimer’s Society of the United Kingdom, there is “good evidence” that eating fish “is good for your health” and there are “reports that it may reduce the risk of developing dementia,” although they cautioned more evidence was needed to verify this connection.
Check Your Blood for Deficiencies with a Painless, Accurate Blood Test Today
Science Nutrition Lab specializes in testing blood to provide crucial insight into your health.
Do you feel tired? Do you experience mental fog? Do you suddenly have joint pain or a general feeling of being unwell? None of these things are normal – and a deficiency could be to blame.
Order a Science Nutrition Lab blood test today to check how your bloodwork compares to an optimal range.