fish oil benefits

25 Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are also referred to as essential fatty acids. There are few nutrients that have been studied as extensively as these, which is why we are covering the 25 health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids that are backed by science. From brain health to hormones, these fats are incredibly beneficial for overall health.

Omega-3s are called essential because they are required for several biological processes within the body. We can’t make these fats and we have to ingest them in order to survive. They are a part of the cell membrane of every single cell in your body. 

Some of the organs and functions they are crucial for are:

  • Brain
  • Lungs
  • Eyes
  • Blood vessels
  • Endocrine system
  • Immune system 

There are three main EFAs:

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

The standard American diet is incredibly low in these Omega-3 fatty acids. 

But since they are so critical to health, how can we incorporate more of them into our lives?

In this article, I’m going to go in-depth into the best places to find Omega-3 and get their amazing health benefits into your body, what to look for in a supplement, the common ailments they may help support, and their role in optimal female hormonal health. 

1. Omega-3 For Hormone Balance

Omega-3 can play a big part in creating hormone balance, primarily because of its anti-inflammatory properties. While healthy fat intake is essential for hormone health, focusing on optimizing your balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio is crucial.

When inflammation is elevated, it drives the activity of an enzymes called aromatase. Aromatase converts testosterone into estrogen in both men and women. In this way, inflammation can lead to high levels of circulating estrogen, which is commonly called estrogen dominance.

In my free meal plan and recipe guide I give you hormone friendly meals that help you balance your omegas for better hormones. 

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids For Menstrual Cramps and Period Pain

Menstrual cramps generally occur in the lower abdomen and can radiate to the lower back or the thighs. In conditions like endometriosis, period pain can be significant and debilitating. 

As I discuss in this article on how prostaglandins cause painful periods, prostaglandins are hormone-like compounds that cause contractions of the uterine muscles. When your levels of prostaglandins are high, menstrual cramps are sure to result. 

But Omega-3 can essentially lower prostaglandins, making those cramps less severe. That’s because prostaglandins can be made by omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids. Check out this article for more on that.

3. Does Omega-3 Help With Acne?

Because hormonal acne is largely an inflammatory issue, and because fat, in general, is just good for the skin, many women turn to Omega-3 supplementation as a natural way to help deal with acne.

Studies have shown that high levels of omega 3 fatty acid intake can decrease inflammation and “may reduce acne risk by decreasing IGF-1 and preventing hyperkeratinization of sebaceous follicles.” 

IGF-1 or insulin-like growth factor is a major factor influencing acne in women. Hyperkeratinization is when there is a build of skin cells that lead to the pore to become blocked. Put them together and it is a recipe for acne.

4. Can Omega-3 Help My Thyroid?

Whether hypothyroid or hyperthyroid, chances are your thyroid dysfunction is caused by autoimmunity.

Autoimmune thyroid conditions like Hashimoto’s or Graves disease wreak havoc on your thyroid health and your life, so finding ways to counteract the underlying inflammation that’s at the root of these diseases is essential for healing.

Omega-3, as we’ve explored, is very effective at doing just that. 

It’s why I include it as part of my Thyroid Protocol, in addition to thyroid loving ingredients like selenium, iodine, and zinc. 

Also — if you are feeling tired, cold, and you’re unexpectedly gaining weight and haven't had your thyroid tested, be sure to ask your doctor for a complete thyroid panel

5. Omega-3 For PCOS

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is very much a disease that’s linked to inflammation. While we don't entirely know what causes PCOS, we do understand that many cases are linked to inflammation and blood sugar dysregulation.

Increasing Omega-3 intake is crucial to cool down inflammation, help reduce the acne that’s so common with PCOS, and there’s even some indication that it can lower testosterone levels and help to regulate the menstrual cycle.

In this study, researchers paired Omega-3 with a low carbohydrate diet to great effect. 

If you're looking for supplements for PCOS then I invite you to check out the article here at drbrighten.com

6. Omega-3 For Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance, which can be an underlying issues of PCOS, is becoming a national epidemic. In the United States, over 84 million people (that’s 1 in 3) have insulin resistance — and they may not even realize it.

Some studies have shown that higher consumption of Omega-3 is associated with better insulin sensitivity

Other ways to increase insulin sensitivity include:

  • Eat a whole-food, nutrient-rich diet and lots of veggies
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Exercise daily
  • Lose weight
  • Add cinnamon and turmeric to your diet
  • Increase magnesium intake
  • Decrease simple carbohydrate intake

7. Omega-3 For Menopause

Women going through menopause often experience a cluster of symptoms including depression and hot flashes. 

One study showed significant improvement in both of these symptoms when Omega-3 supplementation was given.

Further studies are needed to confirm the benefits of omega-3's for hot flashes — this study found women without depressive symptoms showed no improvement in hot flashes. But as the researchers concluded, the benefits of Omega-3 consumption for its effect in lowering triglycerides (a powerful indicator of heart disease, especially in women) alone is something that women can greatly benefit from.

So while some women do experience improvement in their hot flashes, it seems the cardiovascular benefits alone may be worth including more Omega-3's into your routine.

>>Want to learn more about how to balance your hormones naturally? Check out my completely free hormone balancing starter kit.

I often recommend Omega Plus to my patients for its many anti-inflammatory and hormone supporting properties. But, it’s also been found to help with brain and heart health as well.

8. Omega-3 For Inflammation

One of the reasons Omega-3 is such a powerful nutrient is because of its anti-inflammatory properties. 

In study after study, Omega-3 intake has been linked to lower levels of inflammation. There’s even evidence that it can be used instead of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) to treat chronic pain in some people. Remember, always consult your doctor before making changes to your medications.

Improving  your levels of inflammation is something you definitely want to prioritize. Higher levels of inflammation can ultimately lead to:

  • Autoimmune disease
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Chronic pain
  • Alzheimer’s disease

In addition, chronic inflammation can result in HPA dysfunction, as the adrenal glands are responsible for producing cortisol—a hormone that keeps inflammation in check.

9. Omega-3s For Autoimmune Disease

Your immune system attacks healthy tissues when there is an autoimmune disease present. Hashimoto's thyroiditis is the most common autoimmune condition affecting women. In this condition, the immune system attacks healthy thyroid tissues, which leads to hypothyroidism.

Other examples of autoimmunity include type I diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Type I Diabetes Prevention

In one study in the American Journal of Nutrition, it was found that the use of omega-3 fatty acids during the first year of life was associated with a lower risk of developing type I diabetes. In this study, they specifically used cod liver oil. Fish oil is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Another study in the journal of Nutrition and Diabetes showed that the consumption of omega-3 rich fish was associated with a decreased risk of the development of autoimmune diabetes in adults. There was no improved outcomes found for type 2 diabetes in this study.

Omega-3's and Multiple Sclerosis

In another study, the consumption of fish, not other dietary fats, was associated with a decrease in clinical diagnosis of demyelination of the central nervous system, a condition associated with multiple sclerosis.

10. Omega-3 Can Promote Brain Health for Mama and Baby in Pregnancy

Omega 3 is an essential building block for life. When you’re pregnant, DHA is crucial for optimal visual and cognitive development of your baby.

Some studies even suggest that Omega-3 consumption by pregnant women can result in better cognitive and visual development, as well as be protective against neonatal brain injury

Furthermore, Omega-3 intake has been linked to lowered levels of anxiety in pregnant women. 

There’s even evidence that Omega-3 supplementation may help prevent preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy that’s couple with kidney or liver dysfunction) and postpartum depression.  

This is why in my practice I recommend Omega-3's for women trying to conceive and in the postpartum period as part of our Pregnancy Support Kit.

Omega-3 Benefits for Baby

There’s been numerous studies to show benefits of omega-3 consumption during pregnancy including: 

  • Decreased risk in developmental delay, ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy
  • Increased intelligence
  • Less behavioral issues
  • Better social skills, including communication

How Much Omega-3’s Are Needed in Pregnancy? 

Pregnant women typically need more omega-3 fatty acids than non-pregnant women. In general, we want to aim to get our nutrients primarily from food sources, but due to mercury concerns, the Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology recommended that low mercury fish be limited to 2, 6 ounce servings weekly.

In 2017, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, and breastfeeding mothers to follow the FDA and EPA’s revised advice to:

  • Eat 2-3 servings a week (8 to 12 ounces in total) of a variety of fish (see Figure 1 Best Choices);
  • Eat only 1 serving a week (no more than 6 ounces) of some fish, such as albacore (white) tuna and fish with similar mercury concentrations to albacore (white) tuna (see Figure 1 Good Choices);
  • Avoid certain fish with the highest mercury concentrations (see Figure 1 Choices to Avoid); and
  • Check for advisories for fish caught by family and friends and where no advisories exist, limit eating those fish to one serving a week and do not eat other fish that week.

Generally, it is recommended that pregnant women get at least 200-500mg of DHA daily for these reasons. 

Since fish is a primary source of Omega-3, it can be difficult for pregnant women to get enough DHA through whole foods alone. Seafood can be very tricky to consume, especially while pregnant because of concerns regarding pollution in our waterways, fish can be contaminated with mercury.   

If you’re concerned about mercury contamination, or seafood isn’t really agreeing with you at the moment (fish and nausea don’t always mix), but you still want to consume Omega-3, be sure to find a high-quality fish oil supplement that’s been filtered, distilled on a molecular level, and tested to ensure that any contaminants have been removed. 

I am super picky about the fish oil I take and what my family takes, that's why we've gone to great lengths to ensure the highest quality in our Omega Plus.

11. Omega-3 For Brain Health

Brain health is extremely complex and there’s so much we have yet to learn about the brain. One thing is for sure, it’s difficult to treat neurological disorders because of the blood-brain barrier. 

The blood-brain barrier is a semi-permeable barrier between the bloodstream and the brain. It’s very effective in protecting the brain from dangerous substances that could compromise it. But it also prevents certain medications that we’d like to target brain function from entering the brain as well.

Omega-3 is one of the nutrients that effectively crosses the blood-brain barrier, and that’s why it’s been used so effectively for treatment in various neurological conditions. It even shows promise as a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease

12. Omega-3 For Anxiety And Depression

Omega-3 has been well studied for its efficacy in treating depression and anxiety, mostly as an additional supplement in conjunction with traditional depression medications. 

Since rates of depression are lower in countries where people consume the most seafood, it stands to reason that Omega-3 supplementation in populations that don’t otherwise eat a lot of fish could be beneficial as a depression treatment.

13. Omega-3 Can Improve ADHD Symptoms

Omega-3 supplementation has long been regarded as an effective complementary treatment for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It seems especially effective for those who have low stores of the nutrient, to begin with. 

Symptoms that Omega-3 helps to mitigate include:

  • Impulsivity
  • Attention
  • Hyperactivity
  • Difficulty reading
  • Difficulty in visual learning
  • Poor working/short term memory

14. Omega-3 For Heart Health

The benefits of Omega-3 consumption for heart health are many and generally well studied.

The large Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL) study of almost 26,000 people recently announced preliminary findings that showed that Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation reduced the risk of heart attack by a staggering 28%. 

As I mentioned earlier, Omega-3 can work by reducing triglycerides, which are often a sign of heart disease. This is an especially relevant marker in women, as levels can increase in the following circumstances:

  • When taking birth control
  • PCOS
  • Using hormone replacement therapy
  • Pregnancy
  • After menopause

15. Omega-3’s Can Improve Eye Health

DHA is one omega-3 that is critical to eye health. In fact, it plays a role in the structure of the retina of your eye.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to be protective against age related decline in eye health.

Age related macular degeneration is a major cause of blindness worldwide. Nutritional intervention with EPA and DHA may help protect against this issue.

16. Omega-3’s Can Help Prevent Clots

Blood clots form when something triggers the clotting factor cascade. Following this, fibrin and platelets come together to form a clot. Omega-3's can prevent platelets from clumping together, which may be beneficial for those at higher risk.

As little as 1 gram or 1,000 mg per day has been shown to have benefits.

Risk factors for a clot includes:

  • Certain cancers
  • Oral contraceptive pills (The Pill)
  • Trauma
  • Surgery
  • Pregnancy
  • Age (over 60)
  • Smoking
  • Immobility
  • And more

17. Omega-3’s for Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic Syndrome is a collection of conditions that increase your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. These conditions include elevated blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels, low HDL (“good cholesterol”).

In a study reported in the journal of Acta Cardiologica it was found that, “omega 3 improves the cardiovascular risk profile of subjects with metabolic syndrome, having effects on weight, systolic blood pressure, lipid profile and markers of inflammation and autoimmunity.”

Other studies have found similar benefits with regards omega-3 fatty acids reducing inflammation in those with metabolic syndrome. In addition, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may also increase the health of the cardiovascular system in obese adolescents.

18. Omega-3’s for Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder

Several studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids can have a positive effect with regards to mood, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and that lower omega-3 status has been found in those with mood disorders.

Omega-3s are important for brain function, including being neuroprotective and may be a useful adjunct therapy for those with biopolar disorder.

Multiple studies have noted therapeutic benefit of utilizing omega-3's in the treatment of schizophrenia.

In the studies noted above it has been found that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the frequency of mood swings. It is important to note that the research recommends utilizing omega-3 as an adjunct therapy and not as a replacement for a prescribed medication.

19. Omega 3’s in Alzheimers and Dementia 

We certainly need more research to understand the age associated decline in brain health, but research regarding omega-3 supplementation has been promising.

Studies have shown that omega-3 supplementation may slow cognitive decline and that DHA specifically may be beneficial when begun at the early onset of symptoms.

Because omega 3's have numerous benefits and very low side effects, a study in The Journal of Nutrition suggested that supplementation should be initiated in elderly populations as it may provide protection against the onset of Alzheimers.

20. Omega 3’s May Improve Your Skin

Both the EPA and DHA found in fish oil can benefit your skin.

EPA can prevent keratosis pilaris, the little red pumps that show up on the upper arm. In addition, it may reduce the risk of acne, premature aging of the skin, and support health oil production.

Omega-3's have also shown promise as adjunct therapy for eczema, psoriasis, lupus, and melanoma.

DHA is a structural component of your skin and plays a crucial role in the overall health and appearance of your skin.

21. Omega 3’s May Reduce Asthma

Asthma is a lung disease in which inflammation can lead to restriction of the airway, coughing, and wheezing.

Asthma cases have been climbing in recent years with studies noting that patients need an action plan that includes reducing environmental risk factors.

Epidemiological data suggests that omega-3 consumption may be preventative with regards to childhood asthma. Other studies have noted that omega-3 fatty acids in the diet are associated with a lower incidence of asthma.

22. Omega-3’s May Reduce Fatty Liver

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is becoming increasingly common and is contributing to chronic liver disease.

In the journal of Nutrition Reviews it has been noted that omega-3 fatty acids are showing promise in cases of NAFLD. Similarly, in the Journal of Hepatology, it is noted that omega-3's may reduce liver fat.

The benefits of omega-3's in reducing liver fat, insulin resistance, and increasing anti-inflammatory mediators is discussed in a 2020 review article in Liver International.

23. Omega 3’s for Better Bone Health and Joints

Omega-3's may improve bone strength by increasing calcium in bones.

In some studies participants have noted decreased join pain and improvement in osteoarthritis symptoms.

24. Omega 3’s for Better Sleep

DHA is important for the production of melatonin, which helps you sleep. Sleep is crucial for health hormones, reduced illness, and in those with chronic disease.

Melatonin may also be beneficial for fertility and ovarian health.

Supplementation with omega-3's may result in improved quality of sleep in children and fish consumption has been reported to have sleep benefits as well.

25. Omega-3’s May Help Prevent Cancer

Omega-3's may reduce the risk of some cancers like colon, breast and prostate cancer. However, remember that cancer is a multifactorial disease with many variables that should be considered.

In the American Journal of Epidemiology it has been observed that those with higher fish consumption had lower incidences of colon cancer.

In one case control study it was found that high fish consumption was associated with a lower risk of breast cancer in pre and postmenopausal women. Additionally it was reported, “among premenopausal women, there was a significant reduction in breast cancer risk for the highest intake quartiles of omega-3 fatty acids compared to the reference group who consumed the lowest quartile of intake.”

In the journal of Breast Cancer Research it was concluded:

The inflammation-resolving properties and favorable effects of EPA and DHA on oncogenic proteins, as well as on the cardiovascular, bone, and central nervous system, make them excellent candidates for primary and secondary breast cancer prevention trials for individuals at increased risk as well as breast cancer survivors.

We certainly need much more research to understand the therapeutic benefit of omega-3's in cancer prevention, adjunct cancer treatment, and survivorship.

What Are Good Whole Foods Sources of Omega 3?

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in the highest concentration in seafood, but there are other, plant-based sources of this amazing nutrient as well. 

It's important to understand that animal sources of omega-3's are the most readily available to the body and that the vast majority of studies are examining fish consumption and fish oil.

Humans are highly inefficient at converting the plant precursors of EPA and DHA into active forms. In addition, as I explain in Beyond the Pill, we depend on estrogen to make this conversion. If you're using synthetic estrogen in the form of birth control, it is unclear if your body is able to convert plant based omega-3's into the beneficial EPA and DHA.

Some of the best sources of ALA include:

  • Flaxseed
  • Hemp seed
  • Walnuts
  • Chia seed
  • Edamame
  • Kidney beans
  • Navy beans
  • Great northern beans

Some of the best sources of DHA and EPA include:

  • Cold water fish
  • Shellfish
  • Seaweed
  • Algae

Your body can take ALA and convert it into EPA and subsequently DHA, but not in substantial amounts. 

While most people get enough ALA, it’s EPA and DHA consumption where most struggle to get sufficient amounts.

Better choices for Omega-3 rich seafood that are also generally low in mercury include:

  • Wild-caught salmon
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies
  • Herring
  • Pollock
  • Mackerel
  • Crab 
  • Scallop
  • Lobsters
  • Cod
  • Catfish
  • Shrimp
  • Tilapia

Be sure to stay away from the larger, predatory fish, which usually have the highest levels of mercury:

  • Swordfish
  • Shark
  • Tilefish
  • King Mackerel
  • Tuna

How Much Omega-3 Should I Take Per Day?

While there’s not a specific Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for Omega-3, most health organizations recommend 500 mg of EPA and DHA every day — for completely healthy individuals.

If you’re in a healing phase, trying to reduce inflammation, are low in Omega-3, or are looking to address a specific condition, the general consensus is that more Omega-3 is needed. 

When determining how much Omega-3 is right for you, be sure to consider that most healing benefits are achieved with a specific ratio of DHA to EPA of 1:2.

How Do I Choose an Omega-3 Supplement?

As I mentioned before, pollution in our waterways is of major concern when we start talking about increasing fish consumption. 

The last thing anyone wants is to try to improve their health, only to compromise it by ingesting more environmental toxins and chemicals in their food or supplements.

When you’re searching for an Omega-3 supplement, be sure to look for a product that:

  • Is derived from smaller fish that is more likely to have lower levels of mercury, to begin with 
  • Is molecularly distilled
  • Is filtered to remove any heavy metals, PCBs, solvents, and pesticides
  • Is tested to ensure all contaminants have been removed
  • Has a ratio of DHA to EPA of 1:2
  • Contains lipase to help ensure there are no fish burps after it’s swallowed

Omega Plus is a product has been formulated with all of these standards in mind. It’s essential to purchase supplements only from places that you can completely trust — and especially when you’re considering a fish oil product.  

Omega-3 For Optimal Health 

I hope this breakdown of Omega-3 has been helpful for you in determining the ways this amazing essential nutrient can help you in your health journey.

Omega-3 plays such a vital role in so many bodily functions and it’s important to me that you understand exactly how it works and how you can utilize it as a natural tool to help you achieve your health goals, whether they are related to female hormones or not. 

If you’re interested in learning more about other vital nutrients, vitamins, natural health, female hormones, the menstrual cycle, or science-backed ways to improve your health, I encourage you to join my mailing list. I regularly send out newsletters, articles, recipes, and more to inspire you. And, as an additional perk, you’ll receive my Hormone Balancing Starter Kit — which has everything you need to get yourself on the path to hormonal harmony. 

That bad mood, anxiety, bad skin, bloating, and food cravings can all be things of the past — and I’d love to show you how!

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is one of the leading experts in women’s medicine and is a pioneer in her exploration of the far-reaching impact of hormonal birth control and the little known side effects that impact health in a large way. In her best selling book, Beyond the Pill, she shares her clinical protocols aimed at supporting women struggling with symptoms of hormone imbalance, including Post-Birth Control Pill Syndrome and birth control related side effects. A trained nutritional biochemist and Naturopathic Physician, Dr. Brighten is the founder and Clinic Director at Rubus Health, an integrative women’s medicine clinic. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and has been featured in prominent media outlets such as Forbes, Cosmopolitan, ABC news, and the New York Post. Read more about me here.