Find out what could happen to your body if you're not eating enough of this essential nutrient.

Lauren Wicks
February 24, 2020
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Omega-3 fats are becoming more of a focus in the health world, as they play a major role in heart, brain and overall health. Omega-3s are found in foods like fatty fish, walnuts and seeds—which many Americans don't eat enough of.

There are three types of omega-3 fats—ALA, EPA and DHA. The first two types are found in plants and the latter is found in seafood, meat and eggs. Experts have yet to establish recommended amounts of EPA and DHA, but recommend women consume 1.1 grams of ALA omega-3s each day and men consume 1.6 grams.

While most of us aren't at risk for an omega-3 deficiency, there are some negative consequences that come with regularly missing the mark on your omega-3 intake.

Your Hair and/or Skin Is Dry and Flaky

It's not just the weather that could be impacting your skin—omega-3 fats help your skin and hair retain moisture. Research shows omega-3 consumption is associated with preventing UV-induced inflammation, hyperpigmentation, dry skin and skin cancer. These fats keep our skin in homeostasis so it can remain supple and glowing—and it could be difficult to keep your skin moisturized and healthy without them. Eating too little fat in general can cause scaly, rough skin and lead to skin conditions like dermatitis and psoriasis.

A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found that increasing your intake of omega-3 fats—particularly those found in fatty fish—could stimulate hair growth and prevent hair loss. Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D., EatingWell's assistant digital nutrition editor, says if you're not getting enough of these fats, it can cause your hair to become dry and brittle.

You're Feeling Anxious or Depressed

Omega-3s help support our brain health and protect against mood swings, anxiety and depression. A 2018 review of studies found people with mood disorders typically have a lower concentration of PUFAS (polyunsaturated fatty acids) that are found in omega-3s and other unsaturated fats. The review also noted that countries with lower fish consumption are associated with higher levels of depression.

Our central nervous system relies heavily on these healthy fats to function, and not getting enough of them can cause inflammation throughout the entire body. Inflammation is also linked to poor mental health and upping your intake of omega-3s could both reduce inflammation and give your brain a necessary boost.

You're Having Joint Pain

Speaking of inflammation, Ball says missing the mark on omega-3s can cause stiff joints and inflammation in other parts of the body. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Global Health Sciences found participants with rheumatoid arthritis found significant relief upon increasing omega-3 consumption. The study's authors say omega-3 fats are associated with reducing morning stiffness and the number of tender and swollen joints in patients living with arthritis.

Low omega-3 intake (and low fat intake in general) can result in a loss of flexibility and increased joint pain, as fat is responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of our cells. It could be worth talking to your doctor about an omega-3 supplement for joint pain—and eating more fish, nuts and seeds each week.

Your Blood Pressure Is Higher Than Normal

Victoria Seaver, M.S., R.D., EatingWell's digital meal plan editor, says an increase in blood pressure could be a sign you're not getting enough omega-3 fats in your diet. Omega-3s are known as the "heart-healthy fats" and are associated with significantly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels.

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish rich in omega-3s (think: salmon, trout and herring) at least twice a week for improved cardiovascular health. Upping your omega-3 intake can help lower your blood pressure and improve your overall heart health.

You Have Extra Belly Fat

Seaver also says missing out on omega-3s can cause your body to retain or accumulate belly fat. This busts the myth that eating fat makes you fat—especially when you're eating unsaturated varieties found in nutrient-rich foods like fish, olive oil, avocados and nuts.

A 2015 study published in PLoS One found that while consuming more omega-3s didn't show to help promote overall weight loss, they did help reduce belly fat and prevent further weight gain. The study's authors couldn't pinpoint why omega-3s help reduce belly fat, but they say it could be possible if the omega-3s are replacing saturated fat in one's diet. They also add that making this swap could promote heart health and lower triglycerides. Other research associates omega-3 fats with an improved metabolism, and not getting enough of them could cause yours to slow down.