Omega-3 deficiency is also known as FADS – Fatty Acid Deficiency Syndrome. The symptoms are hard to pinpoint as they are often shared with other health issues and can easily be overlooked, misdiagnosed or trivialized.
Let’s consider first why we need omega-3 fatty acids in our diet. The body is unable to make omega-3 fatty acids, yet they are essential for every cell. In particular, our skin, joints, brain and cardiovascular system all need fatty acids to function properly.
We need EPA and DHA on a daily basis and the main source is seafood, oily fish or fish oil supplements. ALA omega-3s are sourced from plants such as flaxseed, soybeans and nuts, and these can be converted into EPA and DHA. Vegetable oils provide omega-6 fatty acids, but a higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 can contribute to inflammation and heart disease.
Related: Is Krill Fish Oil Dangerous?
Symptoms of Omega-3 Deficiency
Many studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids are essential for our mental health. Omega-3 deficiency has been linked to depression, poor memory, attention deficit disorder (ADD), schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Irritability, anxiety and low frustration tolerance may also indicate a lack of fatty acids. Other symptoms include fatigue and poor sleep quality.
More easy to diagnose is the dry itchy skin, cracked fingertips, eczema, hair loss, dandruff and brittle nails that are caused by insufficient omega-3.
Omega-3 eases joint pain by reducing inflammation so omega-3 deficiency may cause an increase in pain for those suffering from stiff joints and rheumatoid arthritis.
We know that omega-3 supports a healthy cardiovascular system, but symptoms of heart disease may not be evident until a heart attack or stroke occurs, which can be far too late.
How Much Omega-3 do we Need?
The FDA does not issue guidelines for recommended daily amounts (RDA) of omega-3 fatty acids but we can look elsewhere for guidance.
The European Food Safety Agency recommends at least 250 mg of combined EPA and DHA daily. The American Heart Foundation suggests 500 mg for healthy adults, but double that amount (1 gram) for those diagnosed with heart disease.
Pregnant and nursing mothers should aim for at least 300 mg per day, according to several advisory groups.
When it comes to DHA, a study by French scientists found that 200 mg DHA per day helped prevent heart disease in healthy men. This figure was reached after healthy male participants aged 53- 65 were given various daily doses of DHA from 200 to 1,600 mg. Blood and urine samples showed biomarkers indicating the effects of each dose. It concluded that 200 mg DHA per day provided the best cardiovascular protection.
By comparison, a 100 g serving of salmon contains up to 1,600 mg of omega-3 (400-1,000 mg DHA and 200-800 mg EPA). However, fish oil supplements are the easiest way to regulate daily fatty acid intake and avoid the symptoms of omega-3 deficiency.