The health of our heart is multifaceted, and so if we want to give a helping hand to this crucial organ we need something that’s going to work in multiple ways. Luckily, there is a mountain of scientific research detailing the many mechanisms in which omega 3 can impact the health of our heart and overall cardiovascular system.
Reduce blood triglyceride levels – Omega 3 supplementation reduces blood triglyceride levels, usually in the range of 15 – 30% according to most studies. Triglycerides are not inherently bad – they are a fat that your body will use for energy. A high level of triglycerides in the blood however increases the risk of heart disease, a major cause of death worldwide (1).
Reduce high blood pressure – omega 3 can reduce blood pressure in people with high blood pressure (so it won’t reduce it if you’ve already got a healthy blood pressure level) (2).
Raise HDL cholesterol levels – i.e. the ‘good’ cholesterol levels. There are two types of cholesterol, LDL (Low Density Lipoproteins) and HDL (High Density Lipoproteins). Excess LDL cholesterol in your blood can lead to the build up of plaque on your artery walls – restricting blood flow and increasing the chance of blood clots that go on to cause heart attacks and strokes. The HDL cholesterol removes this “bad” LDL cholesterol from the blood and deposits it in the liver where it can be expelled from the body (3).
Plaque – by keeping arteries smooth and free from damage, omega 3 helps prevent the build up of plaque that can restrict and harden arteries (4).
People who eat fatty fish tend to have more grey matter in the brain (that’s the part of the brain that processes information, memories and emotions) (5). For those studying the benefits of Omega 3, this should come as no surprise - Omega 3 accounts for 40% of our brains polyunsaturated fatty acids. Since we have to get omega 3 from our diet, research has found that how much omega 3 rich food we eat can have huge implications not only on the physical composition of our brain, but also on our mental wellbeing.
Age-related mental decline – Higher omega 3 intake has been linked to decreased age-related mental decline. As we get older, our body gets a little rusty, and it’s the same with our brain. In fact, studies suggest that we reach the peak of our cognitive ability somewhere in our 20s or 30s, after which begins the long downhill descent of our brains processing power (6, 7).
Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease – Higher omega 3 intake has been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease (NOT its treatment) (8, 9).
Omega 3 DHA is heavily concentrated in the retina of our eyes, and is thought to be used to help regenerate the outer section of the eye used to process light, as well as help protect pigment cells from damage.
Macular degeneration – Getting enough omega 3 has been linked to a reduced risk of macular degeneration, one of the world’s leading causes of permanent eye damage and blindness (10).
Protective role – Omega 3 may play a protective role against a host of diseases affecting the health of the retina, including ischemia, chronic light exposure, oxidative stress, inflammation, cellular signalling mechanisms, and ageing (11).
Dry eye syndrome – Omega 3 supplementation has been shown to greatly reduce the symptoms of ‘dry eye’ syndrome (12).
Joint pain – Omega 3 may help with arthritis: patients taking omega 3 supplements have reported reduced joint pain and increased grip strength. The two most common types of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, both cause inflammation and pain in the joints. Rather than targeting the route causes of the arthritis, Omega 3 helps by targeting the inflammatory side effect of arthritis, helping to reduce pain and swelling (13).
Inflammation is a response from our body to injury or infection and is not inherently bad, but unwarranted inflammation can lead to unwanted side effects - from arthritis to asthma. The link between Omega 3 and reduced inflammation has been demonstrated consistently in numerous studies, and is thought to happen through multiple mechanisms, including reducing the production of inflammatory molecules such as cytokines (14).
Depression & anxiety - Studies have found that people who consume omega 3 regularly are less likely to be depressed and that when people with depression or anxiety start taking omega-3 supplements, their symptoms improve. One study even found omega 3 EPA to be just as effective against depression as Prozac, an antidepressant drug (15, 16, 17).
All the health benefits of taking Omega 3 for adults are also the same for children, it's just that their bodies, while young, tend to be much better at looking after themselves. So while children may not see the benefits of taking Omega 3 in their joints for example, it doesn't mean that the anti-inflammatory properties and other benefits of Omega 3 aren't working hard behind the scenes to help keep their insides as healthy as possible.
The human brain continues to develop and grow into our early twenties and is predominantly made up of fats and fatty acids, such as Omega 3. Beyond their role in forming the brain structure, Omega 3 essential fatty acids are involved in the synthesis and functions of brain neurotransmitters, allowing signals in the brain to pass between cells.
Literacy - A study done at Oxford University found that children in the lowest 10% for literacy increased their reading age by two months compared with a placebo group in just four months of taking a daily Omega 3 supplement. An independent study done by the same researchers found that children with sleep issues benefited with an extra 46 minutes (on average) sleep a night (18).
Learning ability - Omega 3 supplementation has long been hypothesised to improve cognitive performance in children, and now there are studies to back it up. Five studies done on children between the ages of 4 and 18 found that Omega 3 supplementation improved measures of school performance, including learning ability, reading, and spelling (19, 20, 21, 22, 23).
Symptoms of ADHD - Studies have found that children with ADHD have lower blood levels of omega 3 fatty acids compared to children who do not exhibit ADHD symptoms. What’s more, numerous studies have found that omega 3 supplements can actually reduce the symptoms of ADHD, improving inattention and the ability to complete tasks as well as decreasing hyperactivity, impulsiveness, restlessness and aggression (24, 25, 26).
Asthma – Omega 3 has been linked to a lower risk of asthma in children and young adults. Asthma is an inflammatory response in the lungs that restricts your airways, causing trouble breathing. Due to the anti-inflammatory properties of omega 3, it has long been hypothesized that fish oil may be able to help reduce the side effects of asthma by reducing this inflammatory response. The degree of benefit varies from study to study, with the strongest evidence being reported in children and young adults (27).
Omega 3 DHA accounts for 40% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the brain, and since it can’t be made in the body, a foetus will rely solely on their mothers diet for their omega 3 intake. When it comes to pregnancy, our bodies are generally very good at prioritising the health of the foetus. That being said, there is only so much our bodies can do with what we give them in terms of our diet, with numerous studies providing a plethora of reasons to supplement with omega 3 while pregnant.
Cognition & behaviour – Getting enough omega 3 during pregnancy has been associated with numerous benefits for the child, including higher intelligence, better communication & social skills, less behavioural problems and decreased risk of development delay, ADHD, autism & cerebral palsy (28, 29, 30).
Eyesight – Infants fed an omega 3 fortified formula have better eyesight than infants fed a formula that hasn’t been fortified with omega 3 (31).