Omega 3 deficiency: the most important questions and answers

Omega 3-Mangel: Die wichtigsten Fragen und Antworten

Omega 3 is an important nutrient needed to maintain the body's natural functions. Since the body cannot produce it itself, and it has to be ingested through food, many people suffer from an omega 3 deficiency.

As essential as an adequate intake of omega 3 is, the consequences of a deficiency or an overdose can be just as serious. It is all the more important to find a suitable middle ground to absorb the amount used by the body.

the essentials in brief

  • Omega 3 is a nutrient that cannot be produced by the body itself, but must be ingested through diet.
  • A large part of the population suffers from an omega 3 deficiency because they consume too little fish or other omega 3-rich foods. The omega 3 concentration in the body should be checked regularly, especially for people who do not eat fish.
  • A lack of omega 3 can have serious consequences. It can lead to problems in everyday life such as sleeping disorders or difficulties in seeing. Long-term consequences are problems of the cardiovascular system or skin and joint problems.

Definition: What is Omega 3?

Omega 3 are unsaturated fatty acids that are essential for the human body. This means that humans have to ingest them through food and cannot produce them themselves.

two fish plates with side dishes

Fish in particular is an important source of Omega 3 and should be eaten several times a week. (Image Source: RitaE / Pixabay)

Omega 3 fatty acids are considered healthy fats and provide important nutrients for humans.

Background: What you should know about Omega 3 deficiency

Especially in the USA, Brazil, India and parts of Europe there is a very low intake of omega 3 fatty acids.

Omega 3 fatty acid deficiencies are widespread.

Young people in particular eat too little fish, which contains a lot of omega 3. On average, they only eat around 40 grams of fish in Germany, while adults eat around 120 grams. Nevertheless, the recommended amount is far below.

What is the function of omega 3 in the body?

Omega 3 has some vital functions that humans depend on. Omega 3 supports the flow of blood because it makes the blood cells more elastic and the blood vessels more flexible.

Therefore, the blood can flow better and also gets access to the narrow blood vessels. This in turn has a positive effect on the bronchi, the nervous system and the brain. In the brain, omega 3 mainly affects brain cells and contributes to brain development in babies.

In addition, omega 3 has an anti-inflammatory effect, has a lowering effect on blood pressure, has an inhibiting effect on blood clotting and supports the metabolism. In addition, omega 3 has a positive effect on the immune system, the cardiovascular system and has a positive effect on maintaining good vision.

What is the daily requirement of omega 3?

The daily requirement for a healthy adult is 300 mg omega 3. This should be made up of the various types of omega 3.

This daily requirement can be covered by consuming 150 to 220 grams of fish once or twice a week.

Fatty fish must be used here, as they are particularly rich in omega 3. Otherwise, a larger amount must be eaten.

Because needs change with age and changing size and weight, babies and children have significantly lower needs. Children and adolescents should consume 0.25 grams per day.

Since omega 3 contributes to a baby's brain function, it must be obtained from the mother as a fetus and from breast milk. Therefore, pregnant and breastfeeding women have an increased need.

In addition, Omega 3 expands the blood vessels, which has a positive effect on competitive sports. For this reason, there is also an increased need among competitive athletes.

age group Recommended amount of Omega 3 per day
children and young people 0.25 grams
Adult 0.3 grams
Pregnant / lactating women 0.45 grams
competitive athlete 1 - 2 grams

These values ​​apply to healthy people. Depending on the diagnosis with diseases, these can also differ. For example, people with heart disease are recommended to eat fish once a day. Thus, a quantity of 1 gram of omega 3 should be taken per day. If an individual is attempting to lower triglyceride levels by taking omega 3, an amount of 2 to 4 grams of omega 3 daily is recommended.

What are the causes of Omega 3 deficiency?

Especially in regions where a lot of fast food is eaten, there is a lack of omega 3 in society. The reason is that omega 3 is contained in unprocessed foods and the omega 6 is found in large quantities in processed foods. However, it is essential that omega 3 and omega 6 are roughly in balance.

An imbalance occurs when the amount of omega 6 is more than four times the amount of omega 3 consumed. The body then begins to break down the omega 3 and cannot properly process the newly ingested ones.

In addition, vegans and vegetarians are particularly affected by an omega 3 deficiency.

The reason is that they don't eat the omega 3 rich foods like animal products.

Which foods contain omega 3?

Omega 3 is also often referred to as fish oil. The reason is that the largest proportions are found in fish. In particular, tuna, mackerel and herring stand out due to the high quantity.

Non-animal products with a lot of omega 3 are flaxseed, and with it also flaxseed oil, walnut oil and rapeseed oil.

product Proportion of Omega 3 per 100 grams
tuna 2.1 grams
mackerel 2.1 grams
herring 2.3 grams
linseed 16.7 grams
linseed oil 54.2 grams
walnut oil 12.2 grams
rapeseed oil 9 grams

At first glance, it may seem as if the oils mentioned contain significantly more omega 3, but it must not be forgotten that oils have a significantly higher calorie content and therefore you can consume a much smaller amount.

three people in an Italian-style kitchen

When cooking in particular, try to use oils high in omega 3 rather than those rich in omega 6. (Image source: Edgar Castrejon / Unsplash)

A distinction must also be made between various other oils such as grapeseed oil, sesame oil and sunflower oil, as these contain a large amount of omega 6, which triggers counter-reactions to omega 3 in the body.

What types of Omega 3 are there?

Omega 3 is basically divided into alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA)

Alpha-linolenic acid contributes to better blood flow by stretching the cell wall. By reaching narrower blood vessels, blood pressure improves. It also has a positive effect on circulatory and heart diseases.

It also has an anti-inflammatory effect and has a positive effect on the kidneys, the intestines and the complexion.

The special feature of ALA compared to EPA and DHA is that it is purely vegetable and is mainly found in walnuts. Therefore, it is the only subgroup of omega 3 that can also be consumed by vegetarians and vegans. However, it is undisputed whether the body also manages to convert ALA into the other two categories of omega 3.

Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)

This is another subgroup of omega 3. Eicosapentaenoic acid is mainly found in fish and must therefore be taken in supplements by vegetarians and vegans.

Eicosapentaenoic acid has a positive effect on people with cardiovascular problems, as it lowers the plasma triglyceride level, which is one of the risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, without increasing cholesterol levels. In addition, EPA contributes to a reduction in plaques, which are deposits in the vessel walls.

However, consuming too much can weaken the immune system in older people and raise cholesterol levels.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

Has an extremely positive effect on a child's cognitive and visual performance. Sufficient intake of DHA can also reduce the number of premature births.

In general, docosahexaenoic acid has a positive effect on brain function and should be taken in sufficient quantities into old age, as the cells of the hippocampus, for which DHA plays an important role in functioning, regenerate throughout life.

In addition, the retina contains a high amount of DHA, so adequate intake is also important for visual function.

Unfortunately, DHA is also an acid that is mainly found in fish and is therefore difficult for vegetarians and vegans to access.

What are the symptoms of Omega 3 deficiency?

A lack of omega 3 is noticeable through a number of symptoms. If this occurs for a longer period of time, it is important to consult a doctor and use a blood count to clarify whether an omega 3 or another nutrient is missing in sufficient quantities.

sleep problems

Omega 3 has a positive effect on melatonin secretion. This is crucial for regulating the sleep-wake cycle.

In addition, EPA and DHA help to curb the stress hormone, which has a major impact on the fight-flight response.

impairment of vision

Since DHA in particular is an important component of the retina, a lack of omega 3 is also reflected in reduced visual performance. In addition, a sufficient Omega 3 supply ensures that the eyes are supplied with sufficient moisture.

lack of concentration

Since omega 3 plays an important role in our normal brain function, a deficiency causes problems with concentration. The reason is that the signals sent by the body are slowed down in the brain or are no longer transmitted at all.

What are the consequences of a permanent omega 3 deficiency?

Omega 3 is an important nutrient for the healthy functioning of the body. Deficiencies are therefore also noticeable through gross limitations. Consequently, if symptoms appear, prompt treatment should be sought to avoid serious sequelae.

Cardiovascular problems

Omega 3 has a positive effect on blood vessels and thus blood circulation. Therefore, a lack of omega 3 causes heart problems and, due to reduced blood circulation, also has a negative impact on the metabolism and, associated with this, an increased risk of obesity. This in turn can promote diabetes.

Elevated blood pressure

A lack of omega 3 leads to a constriction of the blood vessels, which means that less blood flows and at the same time the blood pressure increases. This effect is particularly strong when there is a lack of EPA or DHA.

skin and joint problems

Another consequence of a lack of omega 3 are problems with the skin and joints. On the skin, a lack of omega 3 has the effect of deteriorating wound healing and dry and cracked skin.

The joints also suffer from a deficiency, as they lack the powerful anti-inflammatory agent contained in omega 3.

As a result, severe pain develops, which leads to rheumatism, in which an adequate defense function against inflammation is no longer possible, or to arthrosis, in which the cartilage layer is attacked.

How does an omega 3 overdose manifest itself?

Not only does a lack of omega 3 have serious consequences, but also an overdose.

An overdose of omega 3 can lead to the opposite effects as the benefits of regular omega 3 intake. These include an increase in cholesterol levels and a higher risk of bleeding tendencies.

This can be dangerous, especially for people with thin blood. In addition, the body's immune system can be weakened, which can be a problem, especially for older people.

Omega 3 deficiency: approaches to treatment and prevention

Even if today many people suffer from an omega 3 deficiency, it is important to treat it quickly enough to avoid the serious consequences.

change nourishment

The easiest way to remedy a detected omega 3 deficiency is to change your own diet. Switching less to foods rich in omega 6 and instead to any that contain large amounts of omega 3. For example, instead of using sunflower oil, linseed or walnut oil could be used.

It is also advisable to set at least one fixed day a week on which fish is eaten. Here you should pay attention to a change and in particular to the intake of fish rich in omega 3.

Take preparations & dietary supplements

If we are dealing with people with an increased need for omega 3 or vegetarians or vegans, it may be that a change in diet alone is not sufficient to cover the need.

Here it is advisable to switch to fish oil preparations, as these provide the required amount of omega 3 in a highly concentrated form.

Before starting to take food supplements, these should be discussed with the doctor, since taking too high a quantity can have serious consequences.


Omega 3 is an important nutrient, but far too little attention is paid to it in our eating habits. Because very many people do not consciously pay attention to a sufficient intake of omega 3-rich foods, which can lead to long-term consequences.

In order to determine the personal daily requirement and a possible deficiency, a doctor should be consulted regularly to examine the blood values. Based on your diagnosis, you should adapt your eating habits to your needs in order to avoid the consequences of a deficiency.


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