The Mighty Omega-3: What are Deficiency Symptoms and How Can You Get Enough of It?
If you stroll through the supplement aisles of your local pharmacy, you are sure to find a large number of omega-3 options on the shelves. Because of all the benefits it provides, you also may have heard about this powerhouse supplement from your doctor. In fact, they may have discussed omega-3 deficiency symptoms with you at your last visit.
In recent years, omega-3 deficiency has come into the limelight. Researchers now encourage medical professionals to consider it when looking at a patient’s symptoms and complaints. Often, the symptoms of an omega-3 deficiency mimic other concerns like low iron or calcium, so the omega-3 problem can slide under the radar. The symptoms can be significant, however, and can impact your health for the worse without you realizing it.
What are Omega-3s, and Why Do They Matter?
Omega-3 refers to a group of three fatty acids that our bodies need that come from animal and vegetable fats. These are the “good fats” you hear about from the doctors and nutritionists. The three types of fatty acids in this group are the following:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): This acid comes mainly from plant oils, and our bodies cannot manufacture it. We must consume ALA in our food or supplements to get proper amounts. Flaxseed and soybeans are examples of plants that contain ALA.
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): This acid derives from animal fats and is critical to neurological and cardiovascular health.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): The longest molecule of the three acids in the omega-3s, DHA comes from animal sources and is also essential to brain and heart health, even in fetal development.
Omega-3 Deficiency Symptoms
When our bodies do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids, deficiencies develop. This situation can lead to significant health problems. Some diets and eating plans can make you prone to this deficiency. For example, diets that are high in red meat and poultry or that significantly restrict fat may lead to fatty acid levels that are too low. While some issues that stem from deficiency may not be apparent to the sufferer, the following more obvious symptoms warrant a check of the patient’s omega-3 levels.
- Problems with skin, hair, and nails. Omega-3s build up cell walls, and when levels are too low, you may experience dry skin, brittle hair, and thin nails that peel and crack. Omega-3 deficiency can cause rashes on the skin and dandruff as well.
- Fatigue and trouble sleeping. It can be very tricky to pinpoint what is causing sleep issues because so many things can contribute to the problem, but a lack of omega-3s is a likely culprit. Boosting your levels can help improve significantly the amount and quality of sleep you get. Once you’re enjoying higher-quality rest, you will see many other health benefits, too.
- Deficits in concentration and attentiveness. Subpar levels of essential fatty acids contribute to difficulty with memory and focus and can lead to irritability and anxiety as well. Children and adults who seem to anger quickly for no reason may actually be suffering from omega-3 deficiency.
- Joint pain and leg cramps. Omega-3s derived from fish oil have excellent anti-inflammatory properties. They naturally reduce swelling and inflammation in the joints and throughout the body. If you do not yet experience joint pain, proper intake of omega-3s can prevent the damage that triggers the pain in the first place.
- Allergy symptoms. Hives, asthma, and eczema can all indicate lowered omega-3 levels.
- Excessive ear wax. This symptom is a strange one, but patients who are tired of the gunk in their ears may find that increasing their omega-3 levels will help alleviate it. Aside from the annoyance of excessive ear wax, the buildup can lead to hearing loss. Consuming enough omega-3s can help protect your hearing. One study showed a 14% reduction in the risk of hearing loss for those who added sufficient fatty acid supplements into their self-care routine.
- Cardiovascular concerns. The research is clear that omega-3s are critical for heart health. If you are experiencing heart problems, it may be that you need to increase your intake of this vital nutrient. It protects against heart disease and helps control your harmful cholesterol levels.
- Difficult menstrual cycles for women. Women who experience prolonged, heavy periods with clotting may get relief by increasing their omega-3 consumption.
How Do I Get Enough Omega-3s?
Given all the health benefits associated with this vital nutrient, it is pretty much a no-brainer that people should be ensuring they consume enough omega-3s. So, how much do you need, and how do you actually get enough of it?
Although over-the-counter supplements are a simple way to increase your omega-3 levels, there are dietary options to boost your levels, too. Whenever possible, it is best to get vitamins and nutrients from our food. Then, when needed, you can add in supplements as well.
There is not a strong consensus in the medical world about how much is an adequate intake of omega-3s, but many experts suggest consuming fatty fish at least twice a week or taking 250-500mg per day to reap the benefits. If you use an omega-3 supplement, be sure it includes EPA and DHA. Specific conditions such as heart disease or depression may warrant higher doses, so be sure to talk with your medical provider about what is best for you.
For food-based fatty acid intake, here are your top choices.
Plant-based sources (provide ALA):
- Flax seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
- Brussels sprouts
Animal-based sources (provide EPA and DHA):
Not Sure About Your Levels? Give Us a Call
If you identify with the symptoms discussed here, or if you are wondering if your omega-3 intake is enough, give us a call at Camas Swale today to set an appointment. We’d love to talk with you about food plans and supplement options to make sure you are feeling your best.