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6 Symptoms of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Deficiency

Dec 17, 2014

It has been estimated that over 90% of adults in the United States have too little omega-3 fatty acid intake in their daily diet.  Many conditions are found to be worsened by a deficiency in the nutrient, including heart disease, neurological conditions and even obesity.

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1. Learning Disabilities

DHA is an essential component of the human brain. 60% of the brain is made from these omega 3 fatty acids. If insufficient amounts of these essential fatty acids are consumed in the diet, the myelin sheath surrounding nerve and brain cells may be inadequate. Studies have shown that children with certain learning disabilities, such as attention deficit disorder, may be aided by ensuring that their diets are sufficient in omega 3 fatty acids.

2. Depression

According to Elizabeth Somer MA RD, author of Food and Mood, researchers have found that as fish consumption increases, depression rates go down. In countries that eat more omega 3 fatty acids, the depression rates are thought to be up to 60% less than continents such as North America, where omega 3 fatty acid is lower. Omega 3 is an essential component of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is known to improve mood.

3. Arthritis

Most of the research linking arthritis with omega-3 fatty acids has focused on its effect on rheumatoid arthritis. It is thought that omega 3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation in the body. Arthritis is an inflammation of the joint between two bones. Supplements can reduce tenderness in joints, decrease stiffness, and may result in less medication for symptoms. Some smaller studies have found that omega 3's may be able to reduce the activity of enzymes that destroy cartilage in osteoarthritis as well.

4. Eczema

A small study from the British Journal of Dermatology found that eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, can be improved by as much as 23% over the course of eight weeks with supplementation from the omega 3 fatty acid DHA.  Eczema is related to allergic reactions and inflammation, and omega 3 has been shown to reduce this inflammation, resulting in an improvement in symptoms.

5. Obesity

Omega 3 fatty acids are found in the most metabolically active cells of a living organism, according to MSNBC writer Susan Allport. Omega 3 appears to speed up the activity of cells. When diets are deficient in omega 3 fatty acids, it is correlated with a lowered metabolism, which can lead to weight gain.

6. Heart Disease

A study out of Harvard School of Public Health, published in the online journal PLOS medicine, 40% of deaths from heart disease were attributed to high LDL cholesterol.  In addition to a diet high in trans fatty acids and low in unsaturated acids, low intake of omega 3's were thought to be a contributing factor in the shortened life span.

Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids

There are three types of omega-3's: alpha-linoleic acid, docosahexaenoic acid, and eicosapentaenoic acid.  HA and EPA are the most studied sources for health benefits, and are primarily found in seafoods, such as salmon, tuna, swordfish, anchovies, sardines, and herring.  It is also found as a vegan sea source in algae.  ALA is a source of omega 3's found in plant sources, such as flaxseed and walnuts. 

While the body can convert ALA into DHA and EPA, it is a less efficient system, and health experts generally recommend that sources of DHA and EPA be obtained directly from food at least two times a week.

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