Deficiency of Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the key building blocks of cell membranes. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are fatty acids with a very long chain that are commonly found in the central nervous system and mammalian testes, in sponge organisms and are also immunomodulating agents. It contains two or more carbon-carbon double bonds not saturated with hydrogen atoms at multiple locations within the molecule.

PUFA can be classified into many different groups by their chemical structure in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The omega-3 PUFA (also called ω-3 fatty acids or n-3 fatty acids) refers to a group of PUFA in which the first double bond is 3 carbons from the end (omega) carbon atom of the molecule. But mainly there are three types of it, first is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which is found in plant oils, and then EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are commonly found in marine oils.

These are essential fats because they can not be produced in the body, so it becomes important to consume them through diet or supplement.

What are Omega 3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the key building blocks of cell membranes. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are fatty acids with a very long chain that are commonly found in the central nervous system and mammalian testes, in sponge organisms and are also immunomodulating agents. It contains two or more carbon-carbon double bonds not saturated with hydrogen atoms at multiple locations within the molecule.

PUFA can be classified into many different groups by their chemical structure in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The omega-3 PUFA (also called ω-3 fatty acids or n-3 fatty acids) refers to a group of PUFA in which the first double bond is 3 carbons from the end (omega) carbon atom of the molecule. But mainly there are three types of it, first is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which is found in plant oils, and then EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are commonly found in marine oils.

These are essential fats because they can not be produced in the body, so it becomes important to consume them through diet or supplement.

Mechanism of Action of Omega 3 fatty acids

Many experiments were done through which it was concluded that Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), play an important role in brain health and the modulation of neurotransmitters. The chemical formula for EPA is C20H30O2, and for DHA, it is C22H32O2. These are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that can be obtained from dietary sources like fatty fish and fish oil supplements. These are incorporated in the neural tissues and influence the cell membrane fluidity and functioning of the receptors.

DHA is found to be the major component of the neuronal cell membrane, which is involved in the regulation of neurotransmitter pathways. It helps in enhancing the fluidity of cell membranes, which as a result affects the functioning of various membrane-bound proteins, including receptors and enzymes involved in neurotransmitter synthesis and degradation.

Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids play a key role in modulating several key neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which are responsible for mood regulation. It was observed that EPA and DHA increase the release of serotonin by enhancing the serotonergic signaling pathways. When serotonin level increases it alleviates the depression symptoms.

In addition to this omega-3 fatty acids inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which can negatively impact neurotransmitter function and have been linked to depressive symptoms.

Also, omega-3 fatty acids reduce stress and anxiety by modulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. In this process, omega-3s reduce the production of cortisol, which is a stress hormone and helps in mitigating the physiological effects of stress.

Natural Sources of Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are very important for the body and they can be obtained from several sources. It helps in maintaining good health and builds the immune system, therefore it should be added to the daily diet. In general, the population uses omega-3 fatty acid supplements and enriched foods to get and maintain adequate amounts of these fatty acids.

The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) proposed a recommended daily intake of 250 mg/d eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) for adults.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that play a crucial role in brain function, growth, and development. They are primarily found in fish such as sardines, salmon, and certain plant sources.

Here are some of the natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Fish- Fish are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are important for brain development and cardiovascular health. For example: salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, trout, herring, albacore tuna.
  • Seafood- There are some shellfish that are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. For example: oysters, and shrimp.
  • Seaweed and algae- These are primary sources of omega-3 for fish, making them good options for vegetarians and vegans. For example: spirulina, and chlorella.
  • Nuts and seeds- These are rich in ALA, which can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body, although the conversion rate is low. For example flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts.
  • Plant oils- Some plant oils are sources of ALA, which can be converted to EPA and DHA, though again, conversion rates are low. For example: flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, and mustard oil.
  • Fortified foods- Some foods are fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. For example: certain brands of eggs, some dairy products, some juices, and yogurts.

What is Omega-3 fatty acid Deficiency?

Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency can be referred to as a nutritional deficiency characterized by insufficient levels of essential fatty acids, primarily eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), in the body.

Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency can affect cognitive as well as mental health. These acids are integral components of neuronal membranes and are important for maintaining cell membrane fluidity, which can impact neurotransmitter function and receptor activity.

EPA and DHA are well known for their anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic properties and they can help in maintaining cardiovascular health by reducing blood triglyceride levels, lowering blood pressure, and preventing the formation of arterial plaques. Because of these important properties, a deficiency in these fatty acids can cause inflammation, and develop cardiovascular diseases.

Studies show that low levels of DHA are linked to decreased brain volume and impaired cognitive performance. Researchers have concluded that omega-3 supplements can help in alleviating deficiency symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and many other health problems.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Depression?

Recent studies have concluded that there is a significant link between omega-3 fatty acids deficiency and depression. It happens due to the impact of omega-3s on neurotransmitter pathways.

When the level of Omega-3s increases in the body it enhances the release of serotonin and receptor binding. It was found that serotonin plays a critical role in regulating mood. So, in the deficiency of these fatty acids, there is less release of neurotransmitters which impact the mood and cause depressive symptoms.
In addition to their direct effects on neurotransmitter functions, omega-3 fatty acids also have anti-inflammatory properties that are relevant to depression. Chronic inflammation has been implicated in the pathophysiology of depression, and experiments show that individuals suffering from severe depression have an increased number of inflammatory markers.
Whereas, omega-3s help reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which in turn promotes the synthesis of anti-inflammatory molecules.

It has been evaluated that omega-3 fatty acid supplements have effectiveness in alleviating depressive symptoms in patients with mild to moderate depression. Usually, an antidepressant (single agent), or a combination of an antidepressant and omega-3 fatty acid supplementation is used to cure the symptoms of depression. Also, the inclusion of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet can help in reducing the risk of depression.

Causes of Omega 3 Fatty Acids Deficiency

Recent research highlights that a major portion of the population does not consume adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which in turn causes many health problems. From the above section, it is clear that this fatty acid deficiency can impact both physical and mental well-being.

There are many factors, including dietary habits, certain medical conditions, and lifestyle choices that can cause omega-3 fatty acids deficiency. Understanding these causes can help in preventing and addressing the deficiency.

Daily Recommended Intake of Omega 3 Fatty Acids

The recommended daily intake (RDI) of Omega-3 fatty acids varies by age, gender, and life stage:

  • Infants (0-12 months): 0.5 grams (500 mg) of DHA
  • Children (1-3 years): 0.7 grams (700 mg) of EPA and DHA combined
  • Children (4-8 years): 0.9 grams (900 mg) of EPA and DHA combined
  • Children (9-13 years): 1.2 grams (1,200 mg) of EPA and DHA combined
  • Teens (14-18 years): 1.6 grams (1,600 mg) of EPA and DHA combined (males), 1.1 grams (1,100 mg) (females)
  • Adults (19+ years): 0.5-1.0 grams (500-1,000 mg) of EPA and DHA combined
  • Pregnant Women: 0.3 grams (300 mg) of DHA
  • Lactating Women: 0.3 grams (300 mg) of DHA

Some of the causes of Omega-3 fatty acids deficiency are mentioned below:

  • Dietary Insufficiency- It is one of the primary causes of deficiency. Omega-3s are predominantly found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts but due to modern-day diets, especially Western diets, or vegan diets are low in these foods, leading to insufficient intake of essential fatty acids. The population that consumes less seafood and plant-based omega-3 sources exhibits higher deficiency rates.
  • Impaired Absorption- There are certain medical conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and other malabsorption syndromes which can hinder the body’s ability to absorb fats effectively. It happens due to impairment of the gastrointestinal tract. Research indicates that individuals with these conditions often have lower plasma levels of EPA and DHA.
  • Increased Demand- Certain life stages and conditions can increase the body’s demand for omega-3 fatty acids. Research data indicates that pregnant and breastfeeding women need higher amounts of omega-3s to support fetal and infant brain development. Similarly, individuals with chronic inflammatory conditions or highly stressed lifestyles, are also in high demand of omega-3. But if these needs are not fulfilled, it can cause deficiency.
  • Genetic Factors- It was found that genetic variations can influence how efficiently the body metabolizes and utilizes omega-3 fatty acids. However, some individuals have genetic polymorphisms and this condition affects the enzymes involved in the conversion of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) to EPA and DHA, the active forms of omega-3s. These genetic differences can predispose certain people to lower levels of these crucial fatty acids.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Alcohol

Alcohol is one of the most widely consumed psychoactive substances in the world that has a severe impact on many organs and bodily systems, such as the liver and nervous system. Omega-3 is beneficial in several brain conditions like neurodegenerative diseases, ameliorating cognitive impairment, oxidative stress, neuronal death, and inflammation. On the other hand, alcohol decreases the levels of omega-3 in the brain by decreasing its absorption. Alcohol consumption depletes omega-3 levels by increasing oxidative stress.

Excessive alcohol consumption can significantly contribute to omega-3 fatty acids deficiency. Alcohol impacts the body’s ability to absorb and utilize essential nutrients, including omega-3s. This deficiency can lead to various health complications, exacerbating the negative effects of alcohol on the body.

How to Test for Omega-3 Fatty Acids Deficiency?

Testing for omega-3 fatty acid deficiency is essential for analysis and prevention of deficiency. Detecting a deficiency early and addressing the causes can help in taking the necessary steps to correct it and prevent associated health problems. Testing for omega-3 fatty acids deficiency involves various methods to assess the levels of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in the body.

The key steps to test for omega-3 fatty acid deficiency are mentioned below:

  • Consult a Healthcare Provider- It is the first step in testing for omega-3 fatty acid deficiency. Sometimes, individuals ignore the symptoms and refuse to visit a healthcare consultant, but it is important to visit a consultant to get treatment on time before the condition becomes severe. They can assess dietary intake, review medical history, and recommend appropriate tests based on the current health status and symptoms.
  • Blood Test- In the next step, a blood sample is taken to measure the levels of omega-3 in the blood. It measures the levels of EPA and DHA, after which proper analysis is done. Research suggests that blood tests, such as the Omega-3 Index test, are reliable indicators of omega-3 status in the body.
  • Fatty Acid Profile Test- The Fatty acid profile test is a type of comprehensive type of test that measures the levels of various fatty acids, including omega-3s, in the blood plasma or red blood cells and gives comprised data. This test provides a detailed picture of fatty acid status and can help identify specific deficiencies.
  • Evaluate Dietary Intake- Evaluating dietary intake can also provide insights into the risk of omega-3 deficiency. It is important to include food in diets that is rich in all important nutrients, this can help in preventing deficiencies. Keeping a food diary and recording the consumption of fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and other omega-3 sources can help the healthcare provider evaluate whether the diet meets the recommended intake levels.
  • Symptom Assessment- Omega-3 deficiency can manifest through various physical symptoms, including dry skin, brittle hair and nails, fatigue, mood disturbances, and poor concentration. These symptoms should not be avoided and should be reported to healthcare providers alongside test results to get a clearer picture of omega-3 status.
  • Genetic Testing- Genetic testing is done in case there is a family history of metabolic disorders, or nutritional deficiencies or if there are chances that genetic factors may be influencing omega-3 levels. Certain genetic polymorphisms can affect the metabolism and utilization of omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega 3 Fatty Acid Deficiency Symptoms

  • Dry skin and hair
  • Brittle nails
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Visual disturbances
  • Poor wound healing

Psychiatric Symptoms Omega-3 Fatty Acids Deficiency

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Cognitive decline
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Increased stress levels

Psychiatric Illness exacerbated by Omega-3 fatty acids Deficiency

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Medical Illness exacerbated by Omega-3 fatty acids Deficiency

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Inflammatory conditions (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Eczema and other skin disorders

Consequences of Omega-3 Fatty Acids Deficiency

Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency can have significant consequences on overall health and well-being, affecting various bodily functions and increasing the risk of chronic diseases. It is important to prevent omega-3 fatty acid deficiency through dietary changes or supplementation for the overall well-being of the individuals.

Some of the consequences of omega-3 fatty acids deficiency are mentioned below:

  • Cognitive Decline- It was confirmed that DHA is critical for brain health and cognitive function. Deficiency of these fatty acids can lead to impaired cognitive performance, memory loss problems, and an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
  • Cardiovascular Problems- EPA and DHA have cardioprotective functions such as reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing triglyceride levels. Omega-3 deficiency can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions.
  • Mental Health Disorders- Omega-3 fatty acids help in the production of neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters help in the regulation of mood. A deficiency of these neurotransmitters can lead to many mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety.
  • Inflammatory Conditions- Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties. Its deficiency can exacerbate chronic inflammation, which is a contributing factor in many conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and asthma. Omega-3 supplements help in alleviating these inflammatory conditions.
  • Visual Impairments- Omega-3 deficiency can lead to visual impairment because DHA is a critical component of the retina, and its deficiency can lead to visual impairments and eyesight-related problems.
  • Immune Dysfunction- Omega-3s modulate the immune system by influencing the production of inflammatory cytokines and enhancing immune cell function.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Deficiency Treatment

Treating omega-3 fatty acid deficiency is essential to promote overall well-being. Treatment involves dietary adjustments and supplementation to increase the intake of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

There are certain strategies by implementing which, individuals can effectively address omega-3 fatty acid deficiency and reduce the risk of related health issues. Addressing deficiency can help in improving overall health and will prevent associated complications.

Some of the omega-3 fatty acids deficiency treatment options are mentioned below:

  • Dietary Adjustments- The primary method of addressing omega-3 deficiency is through dietary changes. Increasing the intake of omega-3 through foods and including more omega-3 in diets can help boost the levels of EPA and DHA. IT will help in achieving an adequate omega-3 level in the blood.
  • Supplements- Sometimes diet is not enough to fulfill the omega-3 level in the body, in that case, it is recommended to take supplements as they can be an effective alternative. Research indicates that omega-3 supplements can help normalize fatty acid levels and alleviate symptoms associated with deficiency.
  • Fortified Foods- Consuming fortified foods can also help in increasing the omega-3 intake. Omega-3-enriched eggs, dairy products, and plant-based milk alternatives can also be a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. These can be beneficial to those individuals with limited access to natural resources.
  • Regular Monitoring- Regular monitoring of omega-3 levels through blood tests can help in tracking the progress and according to which dietary or supplement strategies can be applied. With the help of omega-3 index test reports, it becomes easy for healthcare providers to keep a check on omega-3 levels in the blood. It is important to maintain adequate omega-3 levels for long-term health.

Supplements for Omega-3 Fatty Acids Deficiency

Supplements are an effective way to treat omega-3 deficiency, as sometimes it becomes difficult to fulfill adequate levels of all important nutrients through diet only. Supplements for omega-3 fatty acids deficiency are available in various forms and concentrations, providing essential EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

Studies show that omega-3 supplements can significantly improve health outcomes by providing concentrated doses of EPA and DHA. However, choosing the right supplement and dosage is essential to alleviate the symptoms of deficiency.

Some key types of omega-3 supplements and their benefits are mentioned below:

  • Fish Oil Supplements- Fish oil supplements are very rich in EPA and DHA. These supplements are derived from fatty fish and are available in various forms, such as liquid and capsules. Studies show that fish oil supplements can help reduce inflammation, lower triglyceride levels, and support cardiovascular health.
  • Krill Oil Supplements- It is extracted from Antarctic krill, and is rare. These supplements are another excellent source of EPA and DHA. This oil contains phospholipids, which help in enhancing the absorption of omega-3s, making it a potent option. In addition to this, it has antioxidant properties due to its astaxanthin content, contributing to further health benefits.
  • Algal Oil Supplements- It is very difficult for vegans or vegetarians to fulfill the omega-3 demand in the body through plant-based products only so for them algal oil is the best alternative. This supplement is derived from an alga and provides DHA and, in some cases, EPA.
  • Flaxseed Oil Supplements- Flaxseed oil is a good source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a precursor to EPA and DHA. While the conversion rate of ALA to EPA and DHA in the body is relatively low, flaxseed oil still offers a plant-based omega-3 option. Studies show that flaxseed oil can help improve cardiovascular health and also reduce inflammation.
  • Cod Liver Oil Supplements- Cod liver oil is often prescribed by healthcare providers because apart from omega-3 fatty acids, it also provides vitamins A and D. These supplements are particularly useful for individuals who need additional vitamin D support. Due to its multiple benefits, it can help improve bone health, support immune function, and reduce inflammation.

Toxicity from Omega-3 Fatty Acids Supplementation

Omega-3 supplements are indeed good for alleviating depressive symptoms but excessive supplementation can lead to toxicity and adverse effects. Studies show that moderate omega-3 supplementation is generally safe, but high doses can cause significant health issues. The FDA recommends that daily intake not exceed 3 g/d of EPA and DHA combined, with no more than 2 g/d deriving from supplements, more than this can cause toxicity.

By understanding and managing these risks, individuals can avoid the potential toxicity associated with excessive omega-3 supplementation.

Some of the key causes of omega-3 toxicity and their impacts are mentioned below:

  • Increased Bleeding Risk- It was observed that high doses of omega-3 supplements can impair blood clotting, which increases the risk of bleeding and bruising. This can become problematic for those individuals consuming anticoagulant medications or those with bleeding disorders. It increases prolonged bleeding time and reduces platelet aggregation, which can have adverse effects during surgery.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues- Studies show that consuming large amounts of omega-3 supplements can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, including symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, and indigestion. The situation becomes worse if supplements are taken on an empty stomach.
  • Hypervitaminosis A and D- As mentioned above in the section that, Cod liver oil has vitamins A and D apart from omega-3. Excessive intake of cod liver oil can lead to hypervitaminosis A and D, which causes symptoms such as nausea, headache, dizziness, and even more severe health problems like liver damage and hypercalcemia.
  • Elevated LDL Cholesterol- It was observed that supplements rich in DHA can increase levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which can cause heart-related problems. Individuals suffering from cholesterol should keep a regular check on LDL levels to avoid further health problems.

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References

Virtual Psychiatrist
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