- Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient that assists with cognitive function, joint health, and cardiovascular strength.
- If you don’t get enough omega-3s, you may experience dry, flaky skin and dermatitis.
- You could also experience heightened anxiety.
Omega-3 fatty acids are something you’ve probably heard a lot about – but might not be quite sure about what they can actually do for you. But, rest assured, omega-3s are important. According to the National Institute of Health, omega-3s are vital for cardiovascular health, cognitive function, and cancer prevention.
But what happens when you don’t eat enough of them? INSIDER talked with Brigitte Zeitlin, a registered dietician and owner of BZ Nutrition, to find out the signs you might not be getting enough omega-3s – and what to do about it.
The signs of an omega-3 deficiency are more subtle than you might think, but can often be identified by a doctor.
“Most of the symptoms one would experience without an adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids are internal and have no real physical signs,” Zeitlin told INSIDER. “They may experience higher amounts of inflammation in the body, they may have higher cholesterol, as well as an increased risk of heart disease, which requires blood work from your doctor to truly determine your health status.”
That said, some signs are more clear than others.
“You may start to experience dry, rough, scaly skin, or dermatitis (inflamed skin),” Zeitlin said.
Because omega-3s were shown in a 2011 study to lessen anxiety, you could also experience heightened feelings of anxiety.
“An inadequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids will take a developmental toll on your baby, both physically and mentally,” Zeitlin said. “So you want to make sure you are eating enough through your diet and taking a prenatal vitamin with omega-3.”
So, how do you get your omega-3s?
Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as just popping a supplement. Although the back of a supplement bottle may promise to deliver sufficient daily amounts of omega-3s – which, according to Zeitlin, is [roughly] 1.1 grams for women, [roughly] 1.6 grams for men, [roughly] 1.4 grams for pregnant people, and [roughly] 1.6 grams for anyone who is lactating – supplements are not FDA regulated. So, while they can certainly be used to boost anyone’s diet, it’s difficult to know what’s actually in them and shouldn’t be used as the only source of omega-3s.
Instead, Zeitlin recommends eating foods known to be rich in omega-3s, such as hemp hearts, fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, walnuts, edamame, and kidney beans.
“We know exactly how much omega-3s you are taking in for that meal,” she told INSIDER. “Supplements are meant to supplement your dietary intake, not make up for it. So [the] first line of defence is always food.”
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