Symptoms of Omega-3 Deficiency and How to Overcome It

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Symptoms of Omega-3 Deficiency and How to Overcome It

Jillian Levy via Dr. Josh Axe — Food is Medicine
Jan 21, 2019

Today, the average person has a high chance of suffering from omega-3 deficiency if he/she doesn’t include omega-3 foods in his/her weekly diet, such as fish, sea vegetables/algae, flaxseeds, or grass-fed meat.

Numerous studies have found that omega-3s from foods and/or supplements can help improve your health. They fight inflammation associated with conditions like arthritis, reduce levels of triglycerides and protect the brain. That, along with many other reasons, is why you want to avoid an omega-3 deficiency.

These important fatty acids also needed for proper cardiovascular and neurological function, cell membrane maintenance, fetal development, mood regulation and hormone production. Omega-3 foods, even more so than supplements, also may be able to help lower your risk for heart disease due to their inflammation-reducing abilities.

“Omega-3s” is another name for omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are found in the human body, as well as in certain foods like oily fish. Essential fatty acids are “essential” because the body cannot synthesize them on its own, therefore humans must get these fats from the diet. Unfortunately, many people fail to get enough omega-3 in their diets, resulting in omega-3 deficiency.

What are the symptoms of lack of omega-3s? As discussed more below, signs of omega-3 deficiency may include joint pain, mental health problems, like depression, and cognitive issues, such as decline in memory.

Omega-3 Deficiency and Chronic Health Problems

Omega-3 foods are known as “good fats,” the kinds that provide us with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAS). There are three different types of “omega-3s.” The types of highly protective omega-3s we hear the most about are called EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These are the omega-3s found in seafood like salmon, sardines, etc. Another omega-3 called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) also is associated with certain health benefits. It is found in plants that contain natural oils, such as flaxseed, walnuts and chia seeds.

While most people consume enough of the other kinds of essential fatty acids, known as omega-6s (found in modified cooking oils like canola, sunflower and safflower oil, plus some nuts), most people’s diets are low in omega-3s. This is why many can afford to up their intake of omega-3 foods, such as fish. Experts believe that modern “Western diets” are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids but include excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids compared with the diets of our ancestors.

EPA and DHA omega-3s are capable of inhibiting many aspects of inflammation, including leucocyte chemotaxis, adhesion molecule expression, production of prostaglandins and leukotrienes, and more. While omega-6s can increase production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, omega-3s can help to counteract this process.

What are the signs symptoms of an essential fatty acid deficiency? Over time, symptoms can start to develop if the body lacks essential, healthy fats or gets too many omega-6s compared to omega-3s. For example, mental health may suffer, skin may become dry and symptoms tied to allergies may emerge.

In addition to the symptoms described below, omega-3 deficiency can put you at higher risk for health problems, such as:

  • Inflammation (sometimes severe) that’s associated with pain, stiffness and poor healing
  • Possibly a higher risk for heart disease and high cholesterol (a number of studies have found that people who get omega-3s from eating seafood one to four times a week are less likely to die of heart disease)
  • Digestive disorders
  • Allergies
  • Arthritis
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Mental health issues, like depression
  • Poor brain development in infants and young children
  • Attention deficit problems, including ADHD in children
  • Neurodegenerative and neurological disorders, including cognitive decline in older adults, dementia and memory loss

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