There are beneficial fats that improve cognitive function and heart health, and then there are fats that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. The healthy fats that you need to concern yourself with are known as omega-3 fatty acids. They are commonly available in supplement form, and you’ve most likely seen them in the local pharmacy or grocery store. Omega-3s are also readily available in foods, and you can experience numerous health problems if you don’t get enough via your diet.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
There are two primary categories of polyunsaturated fatty acids: omega-3s and omega-6s. Both groups consist of long chains of carbon atoms with a carboxyl group at one end of the chain, and a methyl group at the other. In the case of omega-3s, there is a carbon double bond that is three carbons form the methyl end of the chain. Omega-3s are present in certain foods, including flaxseeds, chia seeds, avocados, walnuts, and certain fish like cod or salmon.
Scientists have concentrated studies on three types of omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are long-chain omega-3s, with EPA containing 20 carbons and DHA containing 22 carbons. ALA contains 18 carbons. This is important because the human body can only form carbon-carbon double bonds after the ninth carbon. ALA and linoleic acid are both essential fatty acids, meaning you have to obtain them through your diet; the body cannot make them on its own.
Omega-3 deficiency has come to light in recent years. Researchers actually encourage doctors or medical professionals to look at a patient’s omega-3 intake when they complain about specific symptoms. Often times, symptoms of omega-3 deficiency can mimic those of iron or calcium deficiency, sliding under the radar of tests. Below, you’ll find five common symptoms of omega-3 deficiency.
Peeling nails, soft nails, or brittle nails are common signs that something is awry within the body. Brittle nails can be symptoms of other conditions, but they are commonly associated with omega-3 deficiency. Omega-3s help to build cell walls, and low levels make these walls weak. This leads to brittle or peeling nails, or other dryness on the scalp and skin.
Excessive Ear Wax
This is a strange symptom, but patients who complain about excessive ear wax commonly have low omega-3 levels. Increasing omega-3 intake may help alleviate this problem. When too much ear wax builds up in the ear canal, it can lead to irritation or hearing loss (in the worst cases). One study found that people who added sufficient omega-3s to their diet experienced a 14% reduction in hearing loss.
Joint Pain Or Stiffness
As you get older, it’s quite common to experience stiff joints or regular joint pain. Many associate this with osteoarthritis, which involves the break down of cartilage in joints. Some studies have found that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce joint pain. Other studies show that polyunsaturated fatty acids may even help reduce the risk or pain of osteoarthritis, but more research is necessary.
Omega-3s are beneficial for heart health, but they also contribute to better cognitive function. Both EPA and DHA have important roles in infant brain development, but they also work to maintain regular brain function throughout life. They exist in cell membranes of brain cells, and an omega-3 deficiency can cause poor focus or concentration. Increasing your omega-3 intake can not only decrease the risk of cognitive decline, but it can also improve overall brain function and concentration.
The omega-3s that exist in skin and nail cells also exist in hair follicles. Most people don’t know this because omega-3s aren’t typically discussed when it comes to hair health. According to several studies, adding more omega-3s to your diet can increase shine and thickness, creating luxurious locks of hair. Lastly, omega-3s can also help to reduce inflammation on the scalp, which can reduce your risk of hair loss.