Feeling a bit out of sorts lately? Kind of blah, achy joints, brain fog stealing your thunder? You know what we mean when we say you’re just not feeling like yourself.

There are lots of reasons why you may be fatigued or unable to get your joints in gear or your memory in focus. From seasonal affective disorder to a bacterial infection or a bad cold or the flu, a relationship break-up, weight gain, depression, old age—the list goes on and on for why you might feel under the weather.

However, there is one reason that might surprise you and it may not be one that you and even your doctor immediately think about. It’s possible you’re dealing with an omega-3 fatty acid insufficiency or even a flat-out deficiency.

BLOG: The Omega-3 Index and Heart Remodeling

It’s not out of the question. It’s common knowledge that more people than not in the U.S. especially, but also round the globe, are falling short in this important nutrient for a variety of reasons. But here’s the good news: a blood test ordered by your doctor, or a simple, at-home finger-prick test from a company such as OmegaQuant, can let you know if you don’t have enough omega-3 fatty acids in your blood.

And more good news: once you know your numbers, it’s a relatively quick fix for most people to raise them, if needed. And if you’re in sufficiency, or even optimal range, then you can eliminate one reason from the suitcase of reasons as to why you’re just feeling kind of crummy.

VIDEO: How Can You Change Your Omega-3 Index?

 

What are Omega-3s and Where do They Come From?

There are three main components of omega-3s, essential nutrients known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), referred to by scientists and nutritional and medical professionals as a class of “healthy” fats.  (The other healthy fats are monounsaturated fatty acids. On the other hand, you should limit the amount of saturated fats in your diet and try to avoid trans fats.)

Let’s look at the three main omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Both EPA and DHA are omega-3 long chain fatty acids (n-3 LC-PUFA) while ALA is a short chain omega-3 fatty acid, making it is a precursor to EPA and DHA.

What does that mean? It means that your body converts ALA—which is commonly found in plants and plant oils (e.g., canola, soybean, flax), nuts (e.g., walnuts), chia and flax seeds and some leafy vegetables—into EPA and DHA.

BLOG: Omega-3 and Omega-6 Foods

However, it’s important to note two things: 1) most of the beneficial results found in the vast body of research for omega-3 fatty acids is associated with EPA and DHA; and 2) although your body converts ALA into EPA and DHA, it’s not an efficient conversion, meaning it might take eating A LOT of ALA-based foods to get enough EPA and DHA.

If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, you don’t have many options to get your omega-3s from EPA and DHA directly; instead, plant-food and plant-oils or foods fortified with ALA or from omega-3 supplements specifically labeled as ALA are your options. While there are omega-3 ALA benefits, there are not as many (or as strongly researched) as those from EPA and DHA. Really the only direct source of EPA and DHA suitable for vegetarians or vegans comes from algal-based supplements or oils.

If you’re neither vegetarian nor vegan, you can easily get your omega-3 EPA and DHA directly by eating fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and other seafood such as oysters and shrimp). Some foods (e.g., juices and cereal and more) are fortified with EPA and DHA but be sure to check to label to confirm.

Taking fish oil supplements is also a viable option, especially if you’re not getting enough omega-3 EPA and DHA through food alone. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish, particularly fatty fish, per week to help reduce heart disease and stroke risk.

 

Top Symptoms When You are Not Getting Enough Omega-3

What would make you suspect you’re lacking in omega-3 fatty acids? First of all, if you’re not a fatty fish eater (and we don’t mean the kind of fish from a fast food joint), and you’re not taking fish oil supplements, chances are you’re falling short in omega-3 EPA and DHA.

To find out for sure, you can ask your doctor for a lab order to draw blood from your vein or you can take one of our three at-home, finger prick blood tests for omega-3 EPA and DHA. Learn more here.

Although testing is the only way to know for sure that you’re lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, there are some telltale signs that your omega-3 status may be less than desirable.

  1. You’ve got “the dry’s.” We’re talking about dry skin, dull hair, itchy scalp and brittle nails. Omega-3s are an anti-inflammatory agent that in turn helps protect against inflammation, even skin inflammation, and may help lock in moisture. Not only dry skin, but increased acne and skin redness may be signs of an omega-3 deficiency. Even dry eyes may be a sign that you need more omega-3 PUFAs in your body. This article explains that omega-3s play a role in eye health, including maintaining eye moisture, and references several studies regarding omega-3s and dry eyes. For example, a meta-analysis with 17 randomized clinical trials involving 3,363 patients found evidence that omega-3 PUFA supplements significantly improved dry eye symptoms and signs in patients with dry eye disease.

 

  1. Your joints might need a little somethin’ somethin.’ This one goes back to the inflammation. If you’re experiencing joint pain or joint stiffness, omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the inflammation and also help lubricate stiff joints. Some research has shown that omega-3s may even be helpful for reducing joint pain symptoms associated with arthritis. If you suspect you have either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, start by talking with your doctor.

 

  1. Your brain isn’t cooperating. Mood swings, memory issues, brain fog, anxiety, maybe even depression? All three main components of omega-3 PUFAs—EPA, DHA and ALA—are needed for proper brain function. You might be surprised to know that DHA is the predominant omega-3 PUFA in the brain, representing around 40% of total brain PUFAs, according to this study. If you’re not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, your brain might be telling your something. 

 

  1. The battle of the belly bulge. You know that spare tire around your middle? Some research shows that omega-3s can help reduce belly fat, although don’t expect omega-3s to be a weight loss panacea. Remember we talked earlier about the “good” fats? The theory is that if you’re eating more PUFAs in place of saturated fat, that may be the reason that your belly bulge goes down. Read more here. 

 

  1. Your heart’s not healthy? Earlier, we shared the recommendation about the need for fatty fish from the American Heart Association to protect your heart. Well, there’s more. Focusing on healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids and reducing consumption of the unhealthy fats could help promote heart health. Some, but not all, research has found that omega-3 EPA and DHA could help lower blood pressure or maintain a healthy blood pressure. If your blood pressure is higher than normal, it could be a sign that you’re not getting enough omega-3 EPA and DHA in your diet. While the research is also inconsistent with regards to omega-3 fatty acids lowering triglyceride levels, this blog reflects on the 2020 REDUCE-IT study and the striking reductions in cardiovascular events and deaths observed in that study that were highly correlated with the subjects’ higher levels of omega-3 EPA, rather than the decrease in triglycerides as was expected. If you’re having heart problems or have a family history of heart disease, make sure you involve your doctor.

 

  1. You’re battle-fatigued from daily life. If your metabolism is slow, you’re likely to feel sluggish and tired and may even want to nap during the day. Guess what: some research has shown that omega-3s have potential effects on improving your metabolism. This article references a few studies that found doses of fish oil at 3 grams and 6 grams daily for 12 weeks increased metabolic rates. As the article noted, not all studies have observed this effect and more studies are needed to better understand the impact of fish oil on metabolic rates. It’s important to talk with your doctor before deciding to take 6 grams daily of omega-3s.

 

How Can You Correct a Deficiency?

In order to correct a deficiency, or even an insufficiency, first, you need to know you have that problem. Taking an at-home test or getting a blood draw ordered by your doctor can tell you the answer as to your omega-3 EPA and DHA status.

The Omega-3 Index, developed by OmegaQuant founder William S. Harris, Ph.D. and other scientists, is the standard which is used worldwide in scientific protocols for researching omega-3s, specifically measuring omega-3 EPA and DHA status in red blood cells. The Omega-3 Index is also recognized in the nutritional and medical communities as a way to measure omega-3 EPA and DHA in individuals. OmegaQuant’s at-home, self-tests are used to advise patients as to whether they are successfully achieving (and maintaining) the right amount of omega-3 in their blood.

BLOG: Can You Take Fish Oil on an Empty Stomach?

An Omega-3 Index of 8% or higher (up to 12%) is ideal, the lowest risk zone. Surprisingly, too many people hover around 6% or below. And unfortunately, here in the U.S., most people are at 4% or below, the highest risk zone.

Once you know your numbers, for most people who are found to be insufficient or deficient, adding more omega-3 EPA and DHA through food and/or with dietary supplements helps raise those numbers to the appropriate levels. Re-testing, as appropriate, helps you ensure that your numbers remain in the right range.

For more information about OmegaQuant’s three options for at-home testing for omega-3 EPA and DHA, click here, here and here.

VIDEO: Can Your Omega-3 Index be too High?

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This test is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, prevent or mitigate any disease. This site does not offer medical advice, and nothing contained herein is intended to establish a doctor/patient relationship. OmegaQuant, LLC is regulated under the Clinical Laboratory improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA) and is qualified to perform high complexity clinical testing. The performance characteristics of this test were determined by OmegaQuant, LLC. It has not been cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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