Omega-3 Fatty Acids: How Do They Impact the Brain, Heart, Eyes, or Muscles, and How to Take Them?

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: How Do They Impact the Brain, Heart, Eyes, or Muscles, and How to Take Them?

Omega-3 fatty acids fall among those nutrients that continuously surprise with their benefits. They should be a regular part of your diet. Scientists have long been studying them, gradually revealing their numerous advantages. Today, we know that they can benefit our heart, brain, and even our muscles. This article will delve into their additional advantages and how to integrate them into your routine.

In this article, you’ll discover the impact of omega-3 fatty acids on the following areas:

What Are Fatty Acids?

Before we explore the benefits and properties of omega-3, let’s get acquainted with fatty acids in general. We won’t limit our discussion to just omega-3; we’ll also touch on other types.

Fatty acids are components of fat molecules (triacylglycerols). This form of fat is present in our diet, but it’s also already present in our bodies as body fat. Triacylglycerols contain not only fatty acids but also glycerol. The fatty acids attached to glycerol can be either saturated or unsaturated, depending on the chemical bonds between carbon atoms in their chains.

Types of Fatty Acids

  • Saturated fatty acids have only single bonds between carbon atoms. They are mostly found in animal fats (butter, lard, and the like) and exotic fats (coconut, palm, and palm kernel).
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids have one double bond in their chains and are typically contained in nuts, seeds, plant oils, and avocado, among others.
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids have two or more double bonds. They can be found in plant sources or fatty sea fish.

If you’re interested in learning more about the composition of fats or the characteristics, effects, and sources of different fatty acids, read the article Healthy and Unhealthy Fats: What Foods to Eat and Which to Avoid?

Classification of Fatty Acids

What are omega fatty acids, and how are they classified?

Now that we have an understanding of fatty acids, we can introduce a subgroup called omega fatty acids. These belong to polyunsaturated fatty acids, meaning they have two or more double bonds in their carbon chains. However, there are several types of omega fatty acids, each with slightly different effects on the body.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are the most well-known and offer the most health benefits, including anti-inflammatory effects. These include the essential alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which we need to obtain from our diet because our bodies cannot produce it on their own. Additionally, omega-3 includes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are derived from ALA but only in small quantities (about 5% is converted to EPA and less than 0.5% to DHA). Therefore, we must also acquire them from food sources. [8]
  • Omega-6 fatty acids also include an essential fatty acid called linoleic acid, which is converted in the body to arachidonic acid. Omega-6 fatty acids, like omega-3s, have partly anti-inflammatory effects but also contribute to the production of pro-inflammatory substances. They are also essential in blood clotting processes and can be found in sources like sunflower oil, sesame seeds, sesame oil, peanuts, or pumpkin seeds.

Omega-9 fatty acids are another group you may come across, but unlike omega-3s and omega-6s, they belong to monounsaturated fatty acids.

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What Benefits Do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Offer?

Now that you understand that omega-3 fatty acids are a crucial component of our diet, it’s essential to explore where and how their benefits manifest. Let’s take a closer look at the roles these fatty acids play in our bodies.

1. Anti-Inflammatory Effects

One of the most extensively studied areas concerning omega-3s is their role in inflammatory processes in the body. These effects are likely the foundation of their positive impact on health. Inflammation is a typical feature of many diseases and health issues, including allergies, cardiovascular problems, and even obesity. EPA and DHA, in particular, exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. They participate in inflammatory processes in several ways.

How Do EPA and DHA Contribute to Inflammatory Reactions?

  • They help create anti-inflammatory substances, such as resolvins, protectins, and maresins. These molecules are crucial in stopping inflammatory processes. [1]
  • They reduce the production of pro-inflammatory compounds (prostaglandins and leukotrienes) generated from arachidonic acid (omega-6 fatty acids). [1]
  • They can assist in reducing the activity of certain genes responsible for inflammatory processes. [1]
  • They contribute to the reduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as TNF and interleukin-6 (IL-6). [1]
  • They help decrease the production of free radicals, which can further reduce overall oxidative stress in cells.

The mechanisms mentioned are likely just a fraction of the ways in which omega-3 fatty acids assist in combatting inflammation in the body. Additional research is crucial, but we already know that these substances can be valuable for those who suffer from inflammatory conditions. [1]

Scientific studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids could play a role not only in preventing common colds and infections but also in more severe conditions. Conditions such as non-specific inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), allergies, or even neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s disease and others) are characterized by inflammatory processes in the body. [1]

Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Omega-3

2. Influence on Cardiovascular Health

You’ve probably come across information about how healthy fats in the form of omega-3 fatty acids benefit your heart. Research in this area continues, but right now we already know that these substances should be a part of your diet if you want to take care of your cardiovascular health.

How do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Affect Cardiovascular Health?

  • They help lower the levels of triacylglycerols (TAG) in the blood. They restrict their formation and, at the same time, support their quicker removal. Achieving an optimal TAG level is something we should all strive for because excessive levels increase the risk of cardiovascular problems (such as heart attacks) and insulin resistance. [22]
  • They can likely increase the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. [22]
  • They are useful in reducing blood pressure. [13]
  • They have an antithrombotic effect, meaning they reduce blood clotting. Studies have shown that this can help prevent blood clot formation. [13]
  • They have a positive impact on endothelial dysfunction, a condition where the vessel wall accumulates fat, blood cells, and other blood components. Thanks to this, omega-3s may assist in preventing atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), which can typically lead to conditions like heart attacks or strokes.
  • They likely have an antiarrhythmic effect, helping improve heart rhythm disturbances. Research suggests that they may directly influence the transmission of impulses between heart muscle cells. [13]

All these effects of omega-3 fatty acids, as seen in scientific studies, translate into a positive impact on overall mortality due to cardiovascular problems. This is even better news than it might initially seem. Ischemic heart disease (leading to reduced blood flow in the heart), heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases are, according to the WHO, the most common causes of death worldwide. Therefore, anything that could mitigate these problems is very important. [18]

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3. Assisting in the Fight Against Cancer

The role of omega-3 fatty acids in oncological diseases has been a subject of research for a long time. The results are promising, as it is becoming clear that they could play a role in both preventing and dealing with cancer.

How Do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Work in the Realm of Cancer?

  • Their anti-inflammatory effects are significant. Inflammation in the body is one of the factors contributing to the development of cancer, and an inflammatory environment is associated with several types of tumours. [3]
  • They slow down tumour growth by promoting apoptosis, which is the death of cancer cells. [4]
  • Studies indicate that they could slow down the proliferation of cancer cells.
  • They likely enhance the effectiveness of cancer therapy as a whole. [4]
  • Research suggests that omega-3s can incorporate themselves into the membranes of cancer cells, thereby altering their properties. [4]

From the research, it appears that omega-3 fatty acids could be particularly beneficial in colorectal and breast cancer. [3,19]

Omega-3 and Cancer Diseases

4. Essential for the Brain and Nervous System

Omega-3 fatty acids are a vital component of neuronal (nerve cell) membranes. Therefore, they are necessary for the proper functioning of the nervous system and the brain.

Omega-3 fatty acids, as part of neurons, are crucial for transmitting signals between them and play an important role in receptor function. They can influence which enzymes bind to the cell and how efficiently cells communicate with each other.

Today, we know that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is particularly important for optimal brain function. It is even associated with improved cognitive functions, including memory and learning ability. Research also suggests a link to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, which are characterized by cognitive decline. People with Alzheimer’s disease appear to have lower levels of DHA compared to those without the condition. [5,19]

Nootropics are also beneficial for brain functions. You can read about them in the article Nootropics: Substances for Improving Concentration and Memory. Which Are the Best Ones?

5. Can Help with Muscle Growth and Regeneration

Omega-3s not only have an impact on the brain and heart but also seem to affect muscle function. They likely aid in muscle regeneration, the formation of new muscle fibres, and the reduction of muscle damage.

How Do Omega-3s Affect Muscles?

  • They probably influence protein synthesis, contributing to the formation of new body proteins, which could play a role in building muscle mass.
  • Their anti-inflammatory effects can assist in muscle recovery.
  • Studies connect them with fewer signs of muscle damage, such as lower levels of creatine kinase, which typically increases with muscle injury. Omega-3s could thus be useful, for example, during demanding strength training. [16]
  • Promising effects of omega-3 fatty acids are evident in older individuals who suffer from sarcopenia. This is a condition characterized by gradual muscle loss in terms of both quantity and function, often associated with serious health problems and even higher mortality rates. Omega-3 fatty acids appear to have a positive impact, thanks in part to their anti-inflammatory properties and their influence on the production of new muscle proteins. [7]
  • Regarding the elderly population, omega-3s are also discussed in relation to anabolic resistance. This condition leads to a reduced response to protein intake and physical activity, making it harder to build new muscle. Omega-3s could have a beneficial effect in such cases. [7]

Regarding muscle mass, omega-3s do indeed show promising effects in many areas. Athletes aiming for muscle growth and optimal muscle recovery can also benefit from them. Of course, they are just the icing on the cake and can serve as a helpful addition on the path to achieving your desired physique.

Furthermore, omega-3s may play a role in addressing serious health problems. Although more research is needed, omega-3s are currently used in individuals with cachexia, a complex syndrome common in cancer patients that leads to overall muscle loss and malnutrition, resulting in a severe deterioration of overall health. [10]

Impact of Omega-3 on Muscles

6. Helping Improve Eye Health

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, are essential components of the blood vessels in the retina. They are necessary for the optimal condition of the eyes and vision. [17,22]

Studies suggest their potential benefits in issues related to dry eyes, and they might even assist in preventing macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older people. DHA plays a crucial role as a component of cell membranes, while EPA is essential in preventing inflammation in the retina. [6,14,19]

Omega-3 fatty acids are not the only nutrients important for eye health. Other vital nutrients include vitamin A, beta-carotene, and other compounds that, when combined, can contribute to eye protection.

7. Important During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the nutrients recommended for supplementation during pregnancy and breastfeeding. They play a significant role in fetal growth and development, as well as the development of the child’s nervous system. Studies suggest that an adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, in a mother’s diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding is associated with better health in their children. DHA is a natural component of breast milk, and in European Union countries, it is even mandatory to add DHA to infant formula. [11,19]

For more information on other important nutrients during pregnancy and breastfeeding, you can refer to the article Women and Nutrition: The Most Important Vitamins and Minerals for Health and Beauty.

Omega-3 for Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

8. Other Possible Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are indeed versatile helpers, and their promising positive effects can be observed in various other areas.

Where Else Can These Nutrients Have an Impact?

  • Studies suggest that they may also reduce the risk of depression and other psychiatric disorders. This potential antidepressant effect is attributed mainly to eicosapentaenoic acid, at a dose of approximately 1 g per day. [22]
  • The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are also apparent in other psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. [22]
  • Research even indicates a connection to alleviating the symptoms of ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). [19]
  • Adequate omega-3 consumption during pregnancy may be associated with a lower incidence of childhood allergies. [19]
  • Omega-3 fatty acids can potentially help with acne problems, with their anti-inflammatory effects playing a crucial role. [2]
  • Promising effects are also seen in rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease characterized by chronic joint inflammation. In some studies, omega-3s are even suggested to reduce joint pain in this condition and may be a part of effective joint nutrition. [19,22]
  • Given their versatile effects, they are also important for healthy ageing and anti-ageing approaches.

Where Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids Found?

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in both plant and animal-based foods. The essential alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is present in flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, wheat germ oil, or rapeseed oil.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), on the other hand, are found in animal-based foods, particularly in fatty saltwater fish such as mackerel, salmon, and herring. Fish oil is also an excellent source of these omega-3 fatty acids.

What is the Average Content of Omega-3 in Different Fish?

Omega-3 (g / 100 g)
Salmon1.8 g
Anchovies1.7 g
Sardines1.7 g
Herring1.2 g
Mackerel1 g
Cpd0,2 g

How Much Omega-3 Fatty Acids Should You Consume Daily?

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends that healthy adults should consume 250 mg of EPA and DHA daily. Pregnant women, according to EFSA’s recommendations, should increase their intake by an additional 100-200 mg of DHA. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) should account for 0.5% of the total daily energy intake (TEI). For a reference TEI of 2000 kcal, this amounts to roughly 1 g of ALA. [8]

For example, in 100 grams of mackerel, you can find up to 1700 mg of omega-3, which is almost seven times the recommended daily intake. Achieving these optimal levels is not particularly challenging since, as you can see, consuming a portion of fish twice a week is sufficient.

The Society for Nutrition of German-speaking Countries (DACH) does not have specific recommendations for EPA and DHA intake, but they also mention 0.5% of TEI for alpha-linolenic acid. [21]

Recommended Daily Intake of Omega-3

The Ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 Fatty Acids

You’ve probably heard that it’s important to maintain a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your diet to manage their positive and potential negative effects. The recommended ratio, for instance, is often cited as 5:1 in favour of omega-6 fatty acids. However, for the typical Western diet today, the ratio is closer to 20:1, which could potentially increase the risk of inflammatory processes in the body. [12,15]

That’s why it’s advisable to reduce the proportion of omega-6 fatty acids and increase the amount of omega-3s. It’s not necessary to target precise numbers; instead, focus on choosing the right foods in the right quantities.

How to Achieve an Optimal Intake of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids?

  • Regularly include fatty saltwater fish in your diet, ideally two to three times a week.
  • Incorporate flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, and other plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids into your diet.
  • If you can’t meet your omega-3 needs through your diet, consider supplements.
  • Partially limit foods that are rich in omega-6 fatty acids (e.g., sunflower oil for cooking) and replace them with those that have a higher content of omega-3. In this case, you can swap sunflower oil for rapeseed oil, for example.

Interested in more details on achieving the optimal intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids? Check out our article How Much Healthy Fats to Eat? The Quantity of Omega-3s Matters More Than the Ratio to Omega-6s.

How Does a Lack of Omega-3 Fatty Acids Manifest?

A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids isn’t associated with severe health problems, but it can still manifest in various ways. It may lead to skin problems and increased susceptibility to infections. In the long term, it could potentially increase the risk of chronic illnesses.

Interestingly, even if you didn’t consume any omega-3 through your diet, it wouldn’t lead to serious health complications. Our bodies have mechanisms to maintain at least a minimum level of omega-3 in the body. For example, when the intake of DHA is very low, there is a natural transformation of alpha-linolenic acid into this fatty acid. [19,22]

However, while there are no life-threatening scenarios to worry about, a mild omega-3 deficiency can still be noticeable. Therefore, it’s advisable to include them in your daily diet in sufficient quantities. If you’re interested in whether your levels are within the optimal range, you can consider a diagnostic test.

Who May Have an Insufficient Intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

  • Vegans, vegetarians and anyone who eliminates fish from their diet or consumes it sparingly.
  • Elderly individuals who have lower overall food intake and lower nutrient absorption from the digestive tract.
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women who naturally have a higher need for omega-3 fatty acids.
  • People with diagnoses such as inflammatory or oncological conditions, where the need for omega-3 may be higher.
Signs of Omega-3 Deficit

Should You Supplement Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and How to Do It?

As always, the foundation is a diverse diet rich in foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty saltwater fish or their plant-based sources. If you don’t regularly consume them or want to ensure you’re truly getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, supplements come into play.

In What Forms Are Omega-3s Available?

You can take omega-3 supplements in these forms at any time during the day. To maximize their absorption and utilization, it’s advisable to take them with meals.

Is Taking Omega-3 Fatty Acids Safe?

There is no established upper limit for the intake of omega-3 fatty acids. However, based on research, it is presumed that excessively high intake, roughly around 900 mg of EPA and 600 mg of DHA daily, could potentially suppress the immune response in some individuals. Even higher doses could increase the risk of bleeding since omega-3 fatty acids are involved in reducing blood clotting. It’s important to note that these high doses are significantly above the recommended intake levels. Regular consumption of lower doses within the recommended intake range is considered safe and beneficial.

Can Omega-3s Interact with Medications?

Like many other substances, omega-3 fatty acids may not go well with all medications. For instance, blood-thinning medications like warfarin could potentially interact with omega-3s. Warfarin reduces blood clotting, and since omega-3s have similar effects, their combination could lead to excessive bleeding. [19]

What Should you Remember?

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential components of nutrition required for the functioning and maintenance of the body. They play a crucial role in brain function, heart health, and fighting inflammation. Moreover, their impact on many other areas of health is becoming increasingly evident. There is hardly anyone among us who would not benefit from their sufficient intake.

Therefore, focusing on incorporating fatty saltwater fish or plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids into your diet is a good idea. You can also enhance your intake by regularly using high-quality supplements.

And how is your omega-3 fatty acids intake? If this article has inspired you to improve your diet or provided you with some new and valuable information, don’t keep it to yourself; Share it with your friends and family.


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[2] CONFORTI, C. et al. Acne and diet: a review. –

[3] D’ANGELO, S. et al. ω-3 and ω-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, Obesity and Cancer. –

[4] D’ELISEO, D. - VELOTTI, F. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cancer Cell Cytotoxicity: Implications for Multi-Targeted Cancer Therapy. –

[5] DIGHRIRI, I.M. et al. Effects of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Brain Functions: A Systematic Review. –

[6] DOWNIE, L.E. et al. Omega‐3 and omega‐6 polyunsaturated fatty acids for dry eye disease. –

[7] DUPONT, J. et al. The role of omega-3 in the prevention and treatment of sarcopenia. –

[8] EFSA PANEL ON DIETETIC PRODUCTS, NUTRITION, AND ALLERGIES (NDA) Scientific Opinion on Dietary Reference Values for fats, including saturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids, and cholesterol. –

[9] FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONSEd. Fats and fatty acids in human nutrition: report of an expert consultation: 10-14 November 2008, Geneva –

[10] FREITAS, R.D.S. - CAMPOS, M.M. Protective Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Cancer-Related Complications. –

[11] HOPPERTON, K.E. et al. Docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid levels are correlated in human milk: Implications for new European infant formula regulations. –


[13] MOZAFFARIAN, D. - WU, J.H.Y. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease: Effects on Risk Factors, Molecular Pathways, and Clinical Events. –

[14] QUERQUES, G. - SOUIED, E.H. The role of omega-3 and micronutrients in age-related macular degeneration. –

[15] SIMOPOULOS, A.P. An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity. –

[16] XIN, G. - ESHAGHI, H. Effect of omega‐3 fatty acids supplementation on indirect blood markers of exercise‐induced muscle damage: Systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. –

[17] EU Register of nutrition and health claims made on foods (v.3.6). –

[18] Global health estimates: Leading causes of death. –

[19] Office of Dietary Supplements - Omega-3 Fatty Acids. –

[20] Omega-3 fatty acids: where to find them? –

[21] Referenzwerte. –

[22] Research Breakdown on Fish Oil - Examine. –

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