Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Benefits and Risks

Parul Dube

October 12, 2022

The body is capable of synthesising fats from various food sources. However, omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats for human survival. You can only obtain these fatty acids from special food items. The sources of this incredible essential fat include vegetable oil, fish, walnuts, green leafy vegetables, etc.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to the body. You can find them in the cell membranes of the human system. They are responsible for controlling the functioning of the cell receptors. For example, hormones that help improve blood clotting, inflammation, contraction and relaxation of the artery walls in the heart synthesise in the body using omega-3 fatty acids.

You can place these polyunsaturated fats under three categories:

  • Alpha-linolenic acids (ALA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acids (EPA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acids (DHA)

Food options like walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds contain ALA. The human body utilises it for energy. On the other hand, only fish varieties like salmon, mackerel, sardines, etc., contain EPA and DHA. They are also popularly known as “Marine Omega-3s”.

Science-Backed Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

1. Improves Heart Health

According to a study, 17.9 million people around the globe die annually due to heart diseases. An increase in triglyceride levels is the main reason behind cardiac diseases.

Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial in reducing the risk of having cardiovascular diseases like heart stroke. As per research consuming omega-3 fatty acids lowers triglycerides levels and reduces inflammation in the body. Moreover, it also improves the functioning of the blood vessels and enhances blood flow.

2. Reduces Inflammation 

Inflammation is our body’s natural response to infections to prevent our organs from getting damaged. However, if inflammation occurs without any prevalent infection, it can severely deteriorate your health. Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce cytokines in our system, which contribute to inflammation. According to research, people with rheumatoid arthritis experienced significant relief from inflammation by including fish oil in their diet. Fish oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids.

3. Curb Depression And Anxiety

Around one-fourth of the world’s population suffers from mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. 

People with symptoms of depression may exhibit symptoms such as losing interest in daily activities, sleeping too much, feelings of hopelessness etc. According to a study, omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial in reducing symptoms associated with mental health issues. Among the three main categories of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA is the most effective in curbing mental health disorders.

4. Enhances Infant And Mother’s Brain Health During Pregnancy

Omega-3 fatty acids help enhance the brain health of expecting mothers and infants. That is because you can find a high concentration of DHA in the brain and retinal area. In addition, as per a study, infants given DHA had better eyesight than others. On top of that, there are several other benefits for the child such as:

  • Reduced risk of Autism, ADHD and Cerebral Palsy
  • Well developed social and communication skills
  • Lesser behavioural problems
  • Higher IQ levels

5. Safeguards Against Autoimmune Diseases

Our immune system protects us against diseases by attacking foreign cells. However, sometimes it mistakes the healthy cells for unwanted cells and starts attacking them. The exact reason behind these autoimmune diseases is unknown, but it occurs due to genetic factors. Type 1 diabetes is a prominent example of such a disorder. 

A study suggests that the intake of omega-3 fatty acids during the initial phase of your life can help you stay at par with autoimmune diseases like diabetes.

6. Improves Brain Health

A decline in mental health can be observed among older adults. It occurs due to reduced brain functioning that comes with ageing. As per a study, consuming omega-3 fatty acids during the onset of Alzheimer’s disease can help prevent its symptoms. That is because omega-3s are neuroprotective and enhance a person’s cognitive abilities. Hence its intake is recommended to maintain good mental health and regulate emotions.

7. Improves Bone and Joint Health

Due to ageing and other factors, bone density decreases after the 40s. Thus taking omega-3 rich foods can fulfil the calcium requirement of the bones. By doing so, it lowers the risk of osteoporosis and arthritis. According to a study, people who included omega-3 in their diet experienced less joint pain and improved bone health.

Inflammation is another common problem that can cause the weakening of the bones. Omega-3s have been evident in providing relief against this problem too.

8. Gives a Healthy and Glowing Skin

The skin structure is made up of DHA. It is responsible for maintaining good health in the cell membranes. If the cell membrane is healthy, the skin is soft, radiant and acne-free. Moreover, EPA also provides several benefits for attaining spotless skin. 

As per a study, consuming omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent acne and manage excessive oil production in the skin. It also prevents premature skin ageing and keeps your skin smooth and hydrated.

9. Prevent Cancer Chances

Data suggests that more than 9.5 million people die every year due to cancer. Omega-3 fatty acids are very beneficial and help prevent the risk factors associated with cancer. For example, studies show that people who included omega-3s in their diet had 55% fewer chances of getting colon cancer. It also lowers the risk of developing prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women.

10. Gives Improved Sleep

Along with a wholesome diet, proper sleep is essential to achieve a healthy lifestyle. A study on sleep deprivation proves that improper sleep is the leading cause of diabetes, depression and obesity. In addition, reduced omega-3 fatty acids give rise to sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea in adults. 

A reduction in DHA levels minimises melatonin levels. It is a hormone that regulates the sleeping pattern in individuals. Several studies suggest that omega-3 improves the quality and hours of sleep. Therefore, children and adults should consume omega-3 supplements.

Omega-3 Foods List

Inculcating omega-3 fatty acids rich foods can boost your overall health drastically. Here is a list of some foods that contain omega-3 and offer several other health benefits:

1. Salmon

Salmon is considered one of the most nutritious food items. Since it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, people consume it globally. Therefore, it is one of the most consumed foods. Moreover, it is also rich in various nutrients such as vitamin B, vitamin D and protein.

As per studies, regular consumption of salmon can also reduce the chances of getting cardiac diseases, depression and dementia.

Nutritional Values

100 grams of salmon contains:

  • Calories – 127
  • Protein – 20.5 g
  • Carbohydrates – 0 g
  • Fibre – 0 g
  • Fats – 4.4 g

2. Sardines

Sardines are another fish variety that people consume primarily as a starter. These tiny fishes are full of numerous nutritional benefits. Moreover, they contain a low level of mercury. Therefore, it is considered a safer option than other seafood dishes. The health benefits of sardines include improved bone health, heart health and enhanced cognitive functioning.

Nutritional Values

100 grams of sardines contains:

  • Calories: 142kCals
  • Protein: 15.9gm
  • Fat: 9.43gm
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fibre: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Calcium: 377mg
  • Sodium: 349mg

3. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds belong to the mint family. They are full of nutritional benefits of vitamins, minerals and other antioxidants such as Quercetin. Therefore, ancient people used them for medicinal purposes. Also, chia seeds support good heart health, manage blood sugar levels, improve bone health and help to keep your weight under control.

Nutritional Values

The nutritional value of chia seeds for 100 grams is as follows: –

  • Calories – 534 kcal
  • Carbohydrates – 28.9 g
  • Proteins – 18.3 g
  • Fats – 42.2 g
  • Fibre – 27.3 g
  • Calcium – 255 mg
  • Iron – 5.73 mg
  • Magnesium – 392 mg
  • Phosphorous – 642 mg
  • Potassium – 813 mg
  • Sodium – 30 mg
  • Zinc – 4.34 mg
  • Selenium – 25.4 mcg
  • Folate – 87 mcg
  • Choline – 78.7 mcg

4. Walnuts

Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and contain a high antioxidant level. Consuming walnuts in your daily routine can help protect you from heart disease, cancer and enhance brain health. You can consume walnuts as a snack or include them in your favourite desserts.

Nutritional Values

Walnuts contain 65% fat and 15% protein content. Being a tree nut, it has negligible carbohydrate content. The carbohydrate in walnuts is primarily due to their fibre content. 

One serving (100 gm) of walnuts contains:

  • Calories: 687 Kcal
  • Fat: 64.5 g
  • Protein: 15.6 g
  • Carbs: 11 g
  • Fibre: 6.7 g

5. Soybean

Soybean is a popular vegetarian alternative for obtaining protein. It also contains nutrients such as vitamin K, potassium, riboflavin and is a versatile food option as you can consume it in soy milk, tofu, soy oil etc. It has been proven effective in fighting cancer and building stronger bones.

Nutritional values per 100 grams

  • Calories: 173 kcals
  • Water: 63%
  • Protein: 16.6 grams
  • Carbs: 9.9 grams
  • Sugar: 3 grams
  • Fibre: 6 grams
  • Fat: 9 grams

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Possible Side Effects

Consuming Omega-3 fatty acids in excess can lower your blood pressure and result in blood thinning. If you’ve recently gone through surgery, consuming them in large amounts can exaggerate the bleeding or increase the levels of bruising. Try to have them in limited quantities to prevent detrimental effects on your body. The other risk factors associated with excessive consumption are:

Weight Gain

Many individuals start consuming excess amounts of fatty acids to burn the stored fat. Unfortunately, when taken in excess, these fatty acids lead to weight gain when taken in excess as high amounts of fat and calories are present. Therefore, overconsumption may increase your weight in no time.

Brain Development Issues

Omega-3 fatty acids comprise substances known as mercury that can impede the development of an unborn child’s brain. Therefore, natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids are preferable over supplement forms.


Issues such as diarrhoea or irritable bowel movements are often faced by those taking large quantities of omega-3 fatty acids. So if you are experiencing diarrhoea, it’s time to reduce fatty acids in your diet.

The Bottom Line

Omega-3 fatty acids offer a lot of benefits and help achieve optimum health. However, ensure that you include the right amount in your diet. An excess of omega-3 can lead to detrimental health effects. You can either obtain them from food sources like fish or plant-based foods or consume them as a health supplement. You can also take advice from a health expert regarding how much omega-3 fatty acids to include in your diet and what form.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What are Omega-3 fatty acids good for?

A. There are numerous health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids, including prevention of heart diseases, improving brain functioning and bone health. It is also beneficial for skin and hair. 

Q. Which food is highest in Omega-3 fatty acids?

A. Mackerel is the richest in omega-3 fatty acids. A piece of Mackerel fish contains 4,107 mg omega-3. Other foods rich in omega-3 are salmon fish, walnuts, chia seeds, etc.

Q. Which vegetables are high in Omega-3?

A. Spinach, broccoli, avocado and beans are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Out of these, spinach contains the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids.

Q. Why is Omega-3 bad for you?

A. Omega-3 fatty acids are generally suitable for your health. However, excessive intake of omega-3 fatty acids can lead to diarrhoea, excessive weight, abnormal bleeding etc.

Q. What happens when you take Omega-3 every day?

A. Regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids in moderation may lead to several benefits. For example, it may help prevent heart diseases, reduce cancer risk, promote weight loss, help improve brain health and improve skin and hair health. However, it is best to take omega-3 from food sources rather than health supplements to avoid side effects.

Q. Is it good to take Omega-3 every day?

A. Yes. A recommended dosage of 1000mg per day may help achieve good health. However, if you wish to reduce triglyceride levels, you may take 2000-4000mg after consulting a medical health professional.

Q. What are the symptoms of Omega-3 deficiency?

A. Some of the common symptoms of omega-3 deficiency are skin problems, joint pain, irritation, and dry eyes. In addition, it may lead to fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation. Therefore, it is essential to have adequate omega-3 fatty acids. 

Q. Are eggs high in Omega-3?

A. Yes. Although eggs are not the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids, many of their benefits are due to omega-3 fatty acids. For example, each serving containing two eggs has 180 mg of omega-3 fatty acids.

Q. Is avocado rich in Omega-3?

A. Yes. Avocados are very rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. They contain a fatty acid called ALA, a subtype of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, avocados also contain fibre, vitamins C, E, K and B complex, and potassium. 

Q. How can I get Omega-3 naturally?

A. Seafood like fish, nuts and plant-based oils like soybean oil and flaxseed oil are some foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, moderate consumption of these foods may help you get adequate omega-3.

Q. Can Omega-3 affect the liver?

A. Omega-3 fatty acids’ supplementation effectively reduces liver fat and inflammation in people with NAFLD. However, high doses of omega-3 fatty acids can damage your liver and even cause liver failure. Hence, you should consume them in moderation.

Q. Will Omega-3 make me fat?

A. Omega-3 fatty acids are advised for people who wish to shed a few pounds. However, overconsumption of omega-3 fatty acids may result in weight gain. That is because omega-3 rich foods are also high in calories. 

Q. Can I take omega-3 with multivitamins?

A. It is not mandatory to take them together. Several omega-3 rich foods contain vitamins. However, taking them together can seriously complement your diet. Therefore, including them together in your diet will fulfil your nutritional requirements.

Q. How long does Omega-3 take to work?

A. You can observe a significant change in health between a period of six weeks to six months. However, it can also depend on the underlying health issues (if any).

Q. Does Omega-3 help joint pain?

A. Omega-3 fatty acids can improve the blood flow through the body resulting in reduced joint pain. Moreover, it also provides relief from symptoms like swelling, morning stiffness etc.

Q. Which Omega-3 is best for Arthritis?

A. A combination of EPA and DHA Omega- 3 fatty acids are recommended to get relief from symptoms of arthritis.

Q. Does Omega-3 reduce inflammation?

A. A combination of EPA and DHA can help in preventing inflammation. That is because omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the production of molecules and substances linked to inflammation.

Q. How much Omega-3 should a woman take daily?

A. A dosage of 1100 mg is recommended for women. However, it is best to seek the advice of a doctor before taking it.

Q. Does Omega-3 help with weight loss?

A. Yes, inculcating Omega-3 in your diet can help you lose weight. However, the effect on weight loss is moderate, and it depends on the body type.

Q. When should you take Omega-3 morning or night?

A. It is better to consume Omega-3 during the evening or post-dinner to feel energetic in the morning.

About the Author

Parul holds a Masters of Medical Science in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and has worked across the globe from the U.K to New Zealand (NZ) gaining her License with the Health Professionals Council (HPC, UK) and the NZ Nutrition Council. From being a Gold medalist in Clinical Nutrition to being awarded an internship with World Health Organisation (WHO, Cairo, Egypt) and Contracts with CDC Parul has had a wide spectrum of work experiences. She is very passionate about Nutrition and Fitness and holds strong to her guiding mantras ‘ Move more’ and ‘Eat Food that your grandmother can recognize’!

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