What are the signs of an Omega-3 deficiency?

What are the signs of an Omega-3 deficiency?

Mar 28, 2024

What is Omega-3?

Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of essential fatty acids that are crucial for human health but cannot be produced by the body, so they must be obtained through diet.

There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: 

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): EPA is found mainly in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and anchovies. It's also present in smaller amounts in algae and some marine plants 

EPA plays a crucial role in reducing inflammation, supporting heart health, and maintaining healthy skin. 

  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): DHA is also found primarily in fatty fish and seafood, as well as in fish oil supplements. It's particularly important for brain health, cognitive function and vision development, especially in infants and young children 

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): ALA is found primarily in plant sources such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts and some vegetable oils like flaxseed oil and canola oil 

It's considered an essential fatty acid because the body can't produce it on its own and must obtain it from food.


What are the benefits of Omega-3?

Fatty acids are known for their numerous health benefits, including: 

  • Supporting heart health: They can help minimise the risk of developing heart disease by supporting healthy blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and moderating inflammation in the body 

  • Promoting brain health: DHA, in particular, is crucial for brain development and function throughout all stages of life. They may help improve cognitive function, memory, and mood and may ease the risk of age-related cognitive decline 

  • Easing inflammation: Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that can help ease inflammation in the body, which is linked to various chronic diseases such as arthritis, osteoarthritis, diabetes and certain types of cancer 

  • Supporting eye health: DHA is a major structural component of the retina, making it essential for maintaining good vision and eye health 


What foods are rich in Omega-3?

Including a variety of omega-3-rich foods in your diet or taking supplements can help ensure you're getting an adequate intake of these essential fatty acids to support overall health and well-being.  

Several foods are rich sources of fatty acids. Here are some examples: 

  • Fatty fish: Salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, herring and tuna are excellent sources of EPA and DHA  

  • Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are rich in ALA. Ground flaxseeds can be sprinkled on yogurt, oatmeal, or salads, while flaxseed oil can be used in salad dressings or smoothies 

  • Chia seeds are another plant-based source of ALA. They can be added to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, or used as a thickening agent in recipes 

  • Walnuts are a good source of ALA. They can be eaten as a snack, added to salads, or incorporated into baked goods 

  • Hemp seeds are rich in ALA and can be sprinkled on salads, yogurt, oatmeal, or added to smoothies 

  • Edamame, or young soybeans, are a plant-based source of ALA. They can be enjoyed steamed as a snack or added to salads and stir-fries 

  • Canola oil is another source of ALA and can be used for cooking or in salad dressings 

  • Soybeans and tofu contain ALA. They can be included in various dishes such as stir-fries, salads, soups and smoothies 

  • Brussels sprouts contain a small amount of ALA and can be roasted, steamed, or sautéed as a side dish 

  • Spinach contains ALA and can be used in salads, smoothies, soups and stir-fries 

Incorporating these foods into your diet can help ensure you're getting an adequate intake to support overall health and well-being. 



Omega-3 deficiency

Deficiency refers to a shortage of omega-3 fatty acids in the body. 

Common symptoms may include: 

  • Dry skin 

  • Brittle hair and nails 

  • Poor concentration and cognitive function 

  • Mood swings or depression 

  • Fatigue 

  • Joint pain or stiffness 

  • Poor memory 

  • Heart problems 


Omega-3 deficiency can occur due to various factors such as inadequate dietary intake of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, excessive consumption of omega-6 fatty acids (found in vegetable oils like corn oil, sunflower oil and soybean oil), certain medical conditions affecting fat absorption or metabolism, or limited conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA in the body. 

Addressing omega-3 deficiency typically involves increasing the intake of omega-3-rich foods or taking omega-3 supplements.  

However, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any supplementation regimen, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking medications, to ensure safety and effectiveness. 


What is the recommended daily intake of Omega 3

In the UK, the recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids is similar to other countries, but specific guidelines may vary slightly.  

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK does not provide a specific recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids, but it does recommend including oily fish in the diet as a source of these essential nutrients. 

The UK government's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) suggests that adults should aim to consume at least two portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily fish.  

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, and herring are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA. 

For individuals who do not regularly consume fish or who have specific dietary preferences or requirements, supplements may be considered.


Should I take Omega-3 supplements?

Should I take Omega-3 supplements?

Omega 3 supplements can be useful for several reasons: 

  • Convenience: For individuals who don't regularly consume fish or other omega-3-rich foods, supplements offer a convenient way to ensure an adequate intake of these essential fatty acids 

  • Health benefits: Omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with numerous health benefits, including supporting heart health by supporting healthy triglyceride levels, easing inflammation and improving blood vessel function 

They also play a crucial role in brain health and cognitive function, with some evidence suggesting they may help improve mood disorders such as depression. 

  • Pregnancy and infant development: Supplements, particularly those containing DHA, are often recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women to support fetal and infant brain development 

  • Vegetarian and vegan diets: For individuals following vegetarian or vegan diets, obtaining sufficient amounts of EPA and DHA can be challenging since they are primarily found in fish and seafood  

Omega-3 supplements derived from algae, which is a plant-based source of DHA, can be a suitable alternative for these individuals. 

The effectiveness of omega-3 supplements may vary depending on factors such as dosage, formulation and individual response.  

It's important to note that while Omega 3 supplements can be beneficial for certain individuals, they are not a substitute for a healthy diet rich in whole foods. 


Related Articles



  1. Balanzá-Martínez, V., Fries, G.R.  et al. (2011). Therapeutic use of omega-3 fatty acids in bipolar disorder. Expert Rev Neurother. 11 (7), 1029-1047. 

  2. Bouwens, M., Dellschaft, N. et al. (2009). Fish-oil supplementation induces anti-inflammatory gene expression profiles in human blood mononuclear cells. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 9 (90), 415–424. 

  3. Gu, Y., Nieves, J.W. et al (2010). Food combination and Alzheimer disease risk: a protective diet. Arch Neurol. 10 (67), 699–706. 

  4. Dunstan, J.A., Mitoulas, L.R., Dixon, G. et al. (2008). The effects of fish oil supplementation in pregnancy on breast milk fatty acid composition over the course of lactation: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatr. Res. 7 (62), 689–794. 

  5. Ebrahimi, M., Ghayour-Mobarhan, M. et al. (2009).Omega-3 fatty acid supplements improve the cardiovascular risk profile of subjects with metabolic syndrome, including markers of inflammation and auto-immunity. Acta Cardiol. 9 (64), 321–327. 

  6. Judge, M.P., Harel, O., Lammi-Keefe, C.J. (2007). Maternal consumption of a docosahexaenoic acid containing functional food during pregnancy: benefit for infant performance on problem-solving but not on recognition memory tasks at age 9 months. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 7 (85), 1572–1773. 

    1. Kiecolt-Grasser, J.K., Belury, M.A.  et al. (2011). Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: a randomized controlled trial. Brain Behaviour Immunity . 25 (8), 1725-1734. 

    2. Lavialle, M., Champeil-Potokar, G. et al. (2008). An (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acid-deficient diet disturbs daily locomotor activity, melatonin rhythm, and striatal dopamine in Syrian hamsters. Journal of Nutrition. 8 (38), 1719–1724. 

    3. Lin, P.Y., Chiu, C.C. et al. (2012). A meta-analytic review of polyunsaturated fatty acid compositions in dementia. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 73 (9), 1245-1355. 

    4. Lin, P.Y., Su, K.P. (2007). A meta-analytic review of double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of antidepressant efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids.  Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 68 (7), 1056-1061. 

    5. Olsen, S.F., Osterdal, M.L. et al. (2007). Duration of pregnancy in relation to fish oil supplementation and habitual fish intake: a randomised clinical trial with fish oil. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 7 (61), 976–985. 

    6. Orchard, T.S., Cheek, F., Pan, X. (2012). A systematic review of omega-3 fatty acids and osteoporosis. British Journal of Nutrition. 6 (12), 253-260. 

    7. Peet, M., Stokes, C. (2005). Omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Drugs. 65 (8), 1051-1059. 

    8. Sudheendran, S., Chang, C.C. et al. (2010). N-3 vs. saturated fatty acids: effects on the arterial wall. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 10 (82), 205–209. 


Images: Image by freepik Image by freepik Image by freepik

Any information or product suggested on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition. Never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. Consult your primary healthcare physician before using any supplements or making any changes to your regime.   

More Articles