Omega-3s are essential fats that your body needs, but cannot produce itself.
Omega-3s are vital because they are an important part of cell membranes found throughout your body, which affect the functioning of cell receptors.
They are part of the starting point for your body to make hormones, for regulating blood clotting and the contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and for inflammation.1
You can get omega-3s in oily fish such as salmon and sardines.
Omega-3 for eyes
One type of omega-3s, known as DHA, is a key structural element of the retina of your eye.
And perhaps not surprisingly, you can have problems with your vision if you do not get enough DHA.2
And while consuming DHA omega-3s will not reverse any retinal damage, they can help preserve the vision you have, as well as relieve dry eye and also chronic inflammation of your eyelids.3
Omega-3 for brain and mental health
Some studies have found that people who consume omega-3s regularly are less likely to be depressed, and can also see improvements in the symptoms of anxiety or depression after starting to consume more of the fatty acid.
Of the three most common types of omega-3s, EPA seems to be most effective at fighting depression.4
There is also some evidence from studies that omega-3 intake can help to decrease age-related mental decline and the risk of Alzheimer’s.5
And because omega-3s are an important structural part of the membranes of cells in the brain, and they also seem to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, they can potentially promote healthier brain cells and less deterioration, in general.6
Omega-3 for pregnancy
The omega-3s that we need as adults are also important for the healthy development of a foetus when a person is pregnant, and of the baby once it is born.
Omega-3s are vital for the brain’s growth and development in infants, as well as for their eyesight.7
There are also various associations between a good omega-3 intake while pregnant and the eventual child’s outcomes.
These include higher intelligence, better communication and social skills, a smaller risk of developmental delay, fewer behavioural problems, and a lower risk of autism and cerebral palsy.8
Omega-3 for inflammation and heart health
Inflammation is an important and healthy response to infections or damage in your body.
However, sometimes it can last for too long, and that can then contribute to the development of some further illnesses.
Omega-3s can contribute to reducing the production of inflammatory eicosanoids and cytokines, which are linked to inflammation.9
Omega-3s also seem to help the heart beat in a steady way, and they lower blood pressure and, as noted above, improve blood vessel function.
High amounts of omega-3s can help lower triglycerides and ease inflammation.10
Metabolic syndrome, a collection of conditions like belly fat, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and high triglycerides, can be helped with an increased intake of omega-3s.
The fatty acids seem to be able to improve insulin resistance, inflammation, and heart disease risk factors, which is important because metabolic syndrome can also eventually increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease.11
Omega-3 for menstrual pain
There are a range of factors that determine how severe menstrual pain is, and one of those appears to be omega-3 consumption.
Studies have shown repeatedly that higher amounts of omega-3s can lead to more milder menstrual pain, with one study suggesting they are more effective than ibuprofen.12
Foods containing omega-3
While there are various green foods and seeds that contain the ALA type of omega-3 (such as walnuts, chia, and seaweed), your body really needs the DHA and EPA omega-3s for the benefits mentioned above.
Your body is capable of converting a small percentage of the ALA omega-3s to DHA and EPA, but ideally, you want to consume both of these directly.
For vegetarians, that can be hard, as DHA and EPA are found in fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, cod, herring, trout, and tuna canned in water.13
Read more: Vegan omega-3 food sources and supplements
The best omega-3 & fish oil supplements
You can also take fish liver oil supplements, or other supplements based on the above-mentioned fish.
9 of the best omega-3 & fish oil supplements are also explored over on our Health Hub.
If these are not an option for you, dairy and animal products such as eggs, margarine, milk, and yoghurt also sometimes contain omega-3s, especially if they have been fortified, or if the animals they came from had a grass or chia-based diet.14
You can also get ALA omega-3s in flaxseed, oatmeal, pumpkin seeds, Brussel sprouts, kale, spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower.15
Last updated: 2 February 2021
Author: Donia Hilal, Nutritionist
Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018. Donia has 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.
Donia has a special interest in; weight management, plant-based nutrition, pregnancy nutrition, special diets and disease risk reduction. Donia’s LinkedIn profile