Omega-3 is called an essential fatty acid for a reason – it’s essential for your body to function, but it has some surprising hidden health benefits too.
What is omega-3?
Two important omega-3s, DHA and EPA, are found mainly in oily fish including salmon, mackerel and sardines, but you don’t have to miss out if you don’t eat fish – linseeds, pecans, hazelnuts and walnuts are rich in another form of omega-3 called ALA, which gets turned into DHA and EPA in your body.
Omega-3 vs omega-6
Unfortunately, most of us aren’t getting enough omega-3. We tend to have much higher levels of a different fatty acid, omega-6, in our diets, found in foods such as vegetable oils and meat.
Omega-6 is still an essential fat but when we eat more omega-6 than omega-3, it can cause inflammation, which may be linked to conditions from arthritis to heart disease. The answer? Up your omega-3 intake. It’s recommended we eat one portion of oily fish every week, or try taking a fish oil supplement with a good balance of DHA and EPA.
You’ve probably heard that omega-3 is good for your joints, brain and heart, but we’ve found five more well-being benefits to this essential fat.
- It can help you sleep better
- It can soothe your skin
- It can lower your blood pressure
- It can boost your memory
- It can ease PMS
Each one is explained below:
1. It can help you sleep better
One study found children who took an omega-3 supplement both slept for longer and woke up less during the night, and researchers think omega-3 could have similar effects on adults. Omega-3 helps the body make substances involved with helping you fall sleep, such as the hormone melatonin.
2. It can soothe your skin
Plagued by eczema or psoriasis? Spanish scientists discovered taking omega-3 supplements, as well as using topical treatments, could help ease psoriasis. Another study found taking omega 3 supplements reduced the severity of eczema. Experts think the effects could be down to omega-3’s anti-inflammatory properties.
3. It can lower your blood pressure
Omega-3 fatty acids have also been found to reduce blood pressure. It’s thought they help blood vessels dilate, so the heart doesn’t need to push blood around the body so forcefully. This may be one of the reasons they’re linked with a lower risk of stroke.
4. It can boost your memory
Keep forgetting where you put your keys? Research shows taking fish oil supplements for six months can sharpen your memory. It’s thought the DHA found in omega-3 fatty acids helps nerve cells communicate better with each other.
5. It can ease PMS
Do you get moody, tearful or anxious every month? Omega-3 could help; research found taking a supplement could reduce the psychological signs of PMS, and may also help with some of the physical symptoms, from bloating to breast tenderness.
It may be because omega-3 fatty acids help your body produce anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, which help reduce levels of another type of prostaglandin linked to swelling and pain.
Get more great ways to boost your wellbeing in our women’s health section.
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This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies