Recent years have brought greater public awareness to the nutritional importance of omega-3 fatty acids, but greater awareness doesn’t necessarily mean greater understanding. Here’s a quick primer on this critical compound from the experts at Franciscan Health—as well as some tips and techniques to help you ensure you’re getting your suggested daily intake and to know what a deficiency may look like.

What Are They?

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats found in natural food sources like fish and plants. They are vital for our survival because they provide structure to our cells, help our bodies produce hormones, regulate blood clotting and reduce inflammation. However, our bodies cannot produce omega-3s on their own. We can only absorb them through what we consume.


Extensive Health Benefits

Omega-3s are believed to play an important role in various parts of the body from our immune systems to our reproductive health. Omega-3s help reduce inflammation associated with heart disease, diabetes and cancer. They protect against cognitive declines, including dementia and depression. Additionally, Omega-3s lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes, help to lower blood pressure and even reduce menstrual pain.

Sources of Omega-3

Omega-3s are primarily found in fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines, as well as in certain types of aquatic plants such as edible marine algae. Some other common foods that yield high levels of these fabulous fatty acids include walnuts, caviar, flax, chia seeds, soybeans, eggs, olives, cauliflower, avocados, oysters, spinach, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. If you have difficulty consuming these foods, especially fish, don’t panic! Omega-3s can be taken in capsule form and are available anywhere that sells supplements.

Symptoms of Omega-3 Deficiency

Omega-3 deficiency produces a range of varied (and sometimes bizarre) symptoms from trouble sleeping, irregular periods, excessive earwax, dry skin, brain fog, mood swings and even cardiovascular problems. If you’ve been struggling with a variety of confounding but seemingly minor health problems, omega-3 deficiency may be the culprit.

When in Doubt

If you think you may have an omega-3 deficiency, assess your diet for the highly specific sources of omega-3 discussed in this article. Always consult with a trusted physician before you start taking any supplements as they can interact with your current medications.


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