Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important.
They have many powerful health benefits for your body and brain.
In fact, few nutrients have been studied as thoroughly as omega-3 fatty acids.
Here are 17 health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids that are supported by science.
#1. Omega-3s Can Fight Depression and Anxiety
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the world.
Anxiety, also a common disorder, is characterized by constant worry and nervousness (3).
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA and DHA. Of the three, EPA appears to be the best at fighting depression (9).
One study even found EPA as effective against depression as a common antidepressant drug (10).
Summary Omega-3 supplements may help prevent and treat depression and anxiety. EPA seems to be the most effective at fighting depression.
#2. Omega-3s Can Improve Eye Health
DHA, a type of omega-3, is a major structural component of the retina of your eye (11).
Summary An omega-3 fatty acid called DHA is a major structural component of your eyes’ retinas. It may help prevent macular degeneration, which can cause vision impairment and blindness.
#3. Omega-3s Can Promote Brain Health During Pregnancy and Early Life
Omega-3s are crucial for brain growth and development in infants.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that infants fed a DHA-fortified formula have better eyesight than infants fed a formula without it (17).
Better communication and social skills
Fewer behavioral problems
Decreased risk of developmental delay
Decreased risk of ADHD, autism and cerebral palsy
Summary Getting enough omega-3s during pregnancy and early life is crucial for your child’s development. Supplementing is linked to higher intelligence and a lower risk of several diseases.
#4. Omega-3s Can Improve Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Heart attacks and strokes are the world’s leading causes of death (21).
These benefits address:
Summary Omega-3s improve numerous heart disease risk factors. However, omega-3 supplements do not seem to reduce your risk of heart attacks or strokes.
#5. Omega-3s Can Reduce Symptoms of ADHD in Children
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity (43).
What’s more, numerous studies observe that omega-3 supplements can reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
Summary Omega-3 supplements can reduce the symptoms of ADHD in children. They improve attention and reduce hyperactivity, impulsiveness and aggression.
#6. Omega-3s Can Reduce Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions.
It includes central obesity — also known as belly fat — as well as high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high triglycerides and low “good” HDL cholesterol levels.
It is a major public health concern because it increases your risk of many other illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes (51).
Summary Omega-3s can have numerous benefits for people with metabolic syndrome. They can reduce insulin resistance, fight inflammation and improve several heart disease risk factors.
#7. Omega-3s Can Fight Inflammation
Inflammation is a natural response to infections and damage in your body. Therefore, it is vital for your health.
However, inflammation sometimes persists for a long time, even without an infection or injury. This is called chronic — or long-term — inflammation.
Summary Omega-3s can reduce chronic inflammation, which can contribute to heart disease, cancer and various other diseases.
#8. Omega-3s Can Fight Autoimmune Diseases
In autoimmune diseases, your immune system mistakes healthy cells for foreign cells and starts attacking them.
Type 1 diabetes is one prime example, in which your immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas.
Omega-3s can combat some of these diseases and may be especially important during early life.
Studies show that getting enough omega-3s during 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).
Summary Omega-3 fatty acids can help fight several autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis.
#9. Omega-3s Can Improve Mental Disorders
Low omega-3 levels have been reported in people with psychiatric disorders (69).
Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may also decrease violent behaviour (72).
Summary People with mental disorders often have low blood levels of omega-3 fats. Improving omega-3 status seems to improve symptoms.
#10. Omega-3s Can Fight Age-Related Mental Decline and Alzheimer’s Disease
A decline in brain function is one of the unavoidable consequences of aging.
One review of controlled studies suggests that omega-3 supplements may be beneficial at disease onset, when the symptoms of AD are very mild (76).
Keep in mind that more research is needed on omega-3s and brain health.
Summary Omega-3 fats may help prevent age-related mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease, but more research is needed.
#11. Omega-3s May Help Prevent Cancer
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the Western world, and omega-3 fatty acids have long been claimed to reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Summary Omega-3 intake may decrease the risk of some types of cancer, including colon, prostate and breast cancer.
#12. Omega-3s Can Reduce Asthma in Children
Asthma is a chronic lung disease with symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing.
Severe asthma attacks can be very dangerous. They are caused by inflammation and swelling in the airways of your lungs.
What’s more, asthma rates in the US have been rising over the past few decades (82).
Summary Omega-3 intake has been associated with a lower risk of asthma in both children and young adults.
#13. Omega-3s Can Reduce Fat in Your Liver
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is more common than you think.
It has increased with the obesity epidemic to become the most common cause of chronic liver disease in the Western world (85).
Summary Omega-3 fatty acids reduce liver fat in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
#14. Omega-3s May Improve Bone and Joint Health
Osteoporosis and arthritis are two common disorders that affect your skeletal system.
Summary Omega-3s may improve bone strength and joint health, potentially reducing your risk of osteoporosis and arthritis.
#15. Omega-3s Can Alleviate Menstrual Pain
Menstrual pain occurs in your lower abdomen and pelvis and often radiates to your lower back and thighs.
It can significantly affect your quality of life.
One study even determined that an omega-3 supplement was more effective than ibuprofen in treating severe pain during menstruation (93).
Summary Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce menstrual pain and may even be more effective than ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug.
#16. Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Improve Sleep
Good sleep is one of the foundations of optimal health.
Summary Omega-3 fatty acids — especially DHA — may improve the length and quality of your sleep.
#17. Omega-3 Fats Are Good For Your Skin
DHA is a structural component of your skin. It is responsible for the health of cell membranes, which make up a large part of your skin.
A healthy cell membrane results in soft, moist, supple and wrinkle-free skin.
Managing oil production and hydration of your skin.
Preventing hyperkeratinisation of hair follicles, which appears as the little red bumps often seen on upper arms.
Reducing premature aging of your skin.
Reducing the risk of acne.
Omega-3s can also protect your skin from sun damage. EPA helps block the release of substances that eat away at the collagen in your skin after sun exposure (101).
Summary Omega-3s can help keep your skin healthy, preventing premature aging and safeguarding against sun damage.
The Bottom Line
Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for optimal health.
Getting them from whole foods — such as fatty fish two times per week — is the best way to ensure robust omega-3 intake.
However, if you don’t eat a lot of fatty fish, then you may want to consider taking an omega-3 supplement. For people deficient in omega-3, this is a cheap and highly effective way to improve health.