They can have all sorts of 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.
Symptoms include sadness, lethargy and a general loss of interest in life (1, 2).
Anxiety is also a very common disorder, and is characterized by constant worry and nervousness (3).
Interestingly, studies have found that people who consume omega-3s regularly are less likely to be depressed (4, 5).
What’s more, when people with depression or anxiety start taking omega-3 supplements, their symptoms get better (6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11).
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 (12).
One study even found EPA to be as effective against depression as Prozac, an antidepressant drug (13).
Bottom Line: 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 brain and retina of the eye (14).
When you don’t get enough DHA, vision problems may arise (15, 16, 17).
Interestingly, 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 (18, 19).
Bottom Line: An omega-3 fatty acid called DHA is a major structural component of the retina of the eye. 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.
DHA accounts for 40% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the brain, and 60% in the retina of the eye (15, 20).
Therefore, it’s no surprise that infants fed a DHA-fortified formula have better eyesight than infants fed a formula without it (21).
Getting enough omega-3s during pregnancy has been associated with numerous benefits for the child, including (22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27):
Better communication and social skills.
Less behavioral problems.
Decreased risk of developmental delay.
Decreased risk of ADHD, autism and cerebral palsy.
Bottom Line: Getting enough omega-3s during pregnancy and early life is crucial for the development of the child. Deficiency is linked to low intelligence, poor eyesight and an increased risk of several health problems.
4. Omega-3s Can Improve Risk Factors For Heart Disease
Heart attacks and strokes are the world’s leading causes of death (28).
Decades ago, researchers observed that fish-eating communities had very low rates of these diseases. This was later found to be partially due to omega-3 consumption (29, 30, 31, 32).
Since then, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have numerous benefits for heart health (33, 34, 35, 36, 37).
Triglycerides: Omega-3s can cause a major reduction in triglycerides, usually in the range of 15–30% (38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44).
Blood pressure: Omega-3s can reduce blood pressure levels in people with high blood pressure (38, 45, 46, 47, 48).
HDL-cholesterol: Omega-3s can raise HDL (the “good”) cholesterol levels (49,50, 51, 52, 53)
Blood clots: Omega-3s can keep blood platelets from clumping together. This helps prevent the formation of harmful blood clots (54, 55).
Plaque: By keeping the arteries smooth and free from damage, omega-3s help prevent the plaque that can restrict and harden the arteries (56, 57, 58).
Inflammation: Omega-3s reduce the production of some substances released during the inflammatory response (40, 42, 59).
For some people, omega-3s can also lower LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol. However, the evidence is mixed and some studies actually find increases in LDL (60, 61, 62, 63).
Interestingly, despite all these beneficial effects on heart disease risk factors, there is no convincing evidence that omega-3 supplements can prevent heart attacks or strokes. Many studies find no benefit (64, 65).
Bottom Line: Omega-3s have been found to improve numerous heart disease risk factors. However, omega-3 supplements do not reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
5. Omega-3s Can Reduce Symptoms of ADHD in Children
It is a major public health concern, since it increases your risk of developing many other diseases. These include heart disease and diabetes (79).
Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce insulin resistance and inflammation, and improve heart disease risk factors in people with metabolic syndrome (80, 81, 82, 83).
Bottom Line: 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 incredibly important. We need it to fight infections and repair damage in the body.
However, sometimes inflammation persists for a long time, even without an infection or injury being present. This is called chronic (long-term) inflammation.
It is known that long-term inflammation can contribute to almost every chronic Western disease, including heart disease and cancer (84, 85, 86).
Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the production of molecules and substances linked to inflammation, such as inflammatory eicosanoids and cytokines (87, 88, 89).
Studies have consistently shown a link between higher omega-3 intake and reduced inflammation (11, 90, 91, 92, 93).
Bottom Line: 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, the immune system mistakes healthy cells for foreign cells and starts attacking them.
Type 1 diabetes is one prime example. In this disease, the immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
Omega-3s can help fight 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 in adults and multiple sclerosis (94, 95, 96).