If you’re struggling with brittle nails, hair prone to breakage, and irritated skin, an omega-3 deficiency may be the cause. Omega-3 supplements, usually made from fish oil, are usually the focus of pharmacies and promise to reverse heart damage, strengthen hair health, and support smooth, glowing skin. We spoke to two experts about what omega-3 can actually do for your skin and hair, and how to add it to your daily diet.
How an omega-3 rich diet can make your skin and hair healthier
Essential fatty acids are the building blocks for the body. “Omega-3 and omega-6 fats produce hormone-like substances called prostaglandins that affect immunity and inflammation in the body,” says nutritionist Harpreet Pasricha. “The former help suppress inflammation, immune responses and blood clotting, while the latter are essential for healthy skin, but can cause inflammation and allergic reactions.” Omega-3 is also known to reduce anxiety and trigger a chemical reaction in the body that makes the skin more sensitive and reactive. “It increases serotonin, which helps manage anxiety and depression, and ultimately leads to better skin,” explains Pasricha. As we are more attuned to vegetable and grain oils, we produce more omega-6s. “For this reason, most doctors suggest adding only omega-3s to the diet,” says prominent nutritionist Pooja Makhija.
Consisting of three fats, namely ALA, EPA and DHA, omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that must be ingested through food because the body cannot produce it sufficiently. EPA and DHA are long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are derived from animal sources – EPA regulates oil production to increase hydration and prevent acne, and slows down the aging process of the skin to keep wrinkles at bay; while DHA supports eye health and brain function, and helps fight depression and other mental illnesses. ALA, on the other hand, is a short-chain omega-3 fatty acid from plant sources that is converted in small amounts into EPA and DHA.
Since the most famous source is oily fish, meeting their omega-3 needs can be a challenge for vegans, vegetarians, or even those who just don’t like fish. It is therefore important to consider and consciously include fatty acid-rich vegetable alternatives. Omega-3 maintains the skin’s barrier function and promotes the effective absorption of water, resulting in softer, more hydrated and ultimately healthier skin. Similarly, these also protect the hydro-lipid layer of the hair shaft, which prevents dull, dry, and brittle strands caused by synthetic chemicals, heat styling, and the sun.
The best omega-3 rich foods to include in your diet