Omega 3 fatty acids are important for countless aspects of our health, from our eyes to our brain and digestion, but a lot of us don’t know how to spot whether we are getting enough, and truth be told, most of us aren’t.
Vegan or not, the levels of omega 3 we need can be difficult to obtain without eating a large amount of oily fish, or taking supplements. Obviously, I won't be advocating eating fish or taking fish oil supplements, but I do advocate a whole foods plant-based diet with nutritional supplementation to make sure you're giving your body everything it needs to function at its best.
When we consider the huge benefits that omega 3 can have on our health, it is not surprising that it’s the areas that omega 3 helps that are the first to show signs of a deficiency. Here are some signs of how to know if you might have a deficiency, and what you can do about it.
1. Earwax build up
This is quite a strange one that I didn’t know about until I started researching this article. Increased levels of earwax aren’t just annoying, they can also be a sign of poor levels of omega 3 which can, over time, contribute to hearing loss. Studies have shown a significant increase in levels of hearing protection for those who have sufficient levels of omega 3.
2. Skin irritation and dryness / dermatitis
If you have an omega 3 deficiency, it’s likely that your skin will be the first to know, and the first to show. Skin dryness, redness, sensitivity and a greater frequency of breakouts can be an indicator that you don’t have enough fatty acids to maintain your skin’s natural barrier, which protects it from losing moisture and from the effects of the environment around us. Studies have shown that omega 3 helps the body to fight inflammation, and there are several theories which suggest inflammation as one of the triggers for acne breakouts.
3. Depression / Anxiety
Omega 3 has been shown to have neuroprotective effects helping the body to protect against impairment and degeneration. Increased feelings of depression and anxiety can indicate lower levels of omega 3.
4. Dry Eyes
Omega 3 is vital for our eyes. Studies have shown that our eye health is dependent on omega 3 for moisture, so if your eyes are feeling dry and itchy, then this could be a sign that something isn’t quite balanced with your omega 3. However, there could be other reasons for a change in your eye health, so make sure you get advice from your healthcare provider.
5. Joint Pain & Stiffness
Omega 3 has certain properties which can help with inflammation and keeping our joints healthy. An increase in joint pain and stiffness might be an indicator of lower levels of omega 3, and supplements might help to alleviate this. Getting enough omega 3 can help to stop the processes which contribute to the destruction of joint tissue and the inflammatory response which causes the pain.
6. Changes to hair, including dandruff
Similar to the changes in your skin, changes to your hair can be an indicator of an omega 3 deficiency. Is your hair becoming dry and brittle, and is more coming out when you brush your hair? These are all signs of low O3 levels. If your scalp is starting to become sensitive, sore or flaky, this might also be an indicator. Your scalp is a very sensitive area of skin, so noticing changes there might be an early warning sign.
7. Brittle Nails
If your nails are becoming soft, brittle or are starting to peel, this might be a sign that your levels of omega 3 might not be up to par.
Studies have shown that people with higher levels of omega 3 tend to fall asleep faster and sleep better. Reasons for changes to your sleep patterns are wide and varied, but can be a symptom of fatty acid deficiency, and let’s face it, who doesn’t want to get a good night’s sleep every night!
9. Poor concentration and lack of attentiveness
Omega 3 is vital for brain health and function, so if you’re finding yourself unable to concentrate on or complete tasks that you would usually be able to achieve with no problems, this might be another sign!
There are many causes of fatigue and omega 3 deficiency is one of them. Elevated levels of fatigue coupled with any of the other symptoms of omega 3 deficiency might indicate that it’s time to look into supplementing!
What can I do about an Omega 3 deficiency?
The longer a deficiency lasts, the more serious the outcomes can be. Long term omega 3 deficiencies can lead to severe health issues, such as heart problems and high cholesterol, cognitive decline, and memory loss. There is also an increase in the risk of developing chronic conditions over time.
You can increase your amount of foods containing omega 3 fatty acids. For those of us who choose a vegan lifestyle, it’s difficult to find natural sources of two types of omega 3, DHA and EPA. In order to ensure better levels of these, it’s worth supplementing with a DHA and EPA rich supplement, such as Vivo Life’s Vegan Liquid Omega 3 Supplement derived from algae, which provides both DHA and EPA. You can find out more about what omega 3 fatty acids are and what they do for the body in this guide.
Eating foods rich in ALA, another type of omega 3 fatty acid, is also important. Foods such as brussels sprouts, flaxseeds and walnuts are full of ALA - yay!
If you’re not keen on the idea of algae oil, Vivo Life’s Nutritional Shake WHOLE also contains omega 3 as part of its 22 vitamins and minerals, making getting the nutrients you need easy to fit around your existing routines.
How long does an Omega 3 deficiency take to go away?
It can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months to rebalance your levels of omega 3 and see changes, depending on the severity of the deficiency.
This is by no means a hard and fast rule, but making sure that supplementing your diet with a liquid omega 3 can certainly help with ensuring that you don't become deficient again over time.
Is there a test I can take for Omega 3 deficiency?
In short, there are no standard tests for an omega 3 deficiency but, as it is estimated that the majority of the adult population do not get enough fatty acids from their diet alone, you might well be one of them.
Your healthcare provider will be able to organise a blood test if you have concerns about your levels of omega 3 fatty acids.
Above all, remember to pay attention to your body, and those small changes which could be indicative of something missing!