Dry Skin & Other Signs of Omega-3 Deficiency

In the realm of functional medicine, the conversation around health often circles back to what we put into our bodies. Nutrition is a cornerstone of this approach, and few nutrients are as crucial as omega-3 fatty acids. But these polyunsaturated fats, with well-documented health benefits, are unfortunately lacking in the diets of many.

This post aims to delve deep into the world of omega-3 nutrition, outlining the red flags for deficiency, the profound roles these essential fatty acids play in functional medicine, plus practical tips for optimal intake.

Need more nutrition guidance? We offer personalized nutrition counseling.

Signs of Omega-3 Deficiency

The majority of the population do not consume adequate omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 FA), leading to deficiencies across the globe. As a measure of overall health status, omega-3 levels of at least 8% or greater have been associated with a reduced risk of chronic disease, most notably cardiovascular disease (1).

Understanding the signs of possible omega-3 deficiency is a critical first step in addressing your need for better intake of these essential fatty acids. Here are some common signs and deficiency symptoms that might indicate a shortfall in omega-3.

Related: Fish or Flax? Which is Best for Omega-3s?

Fatigue and Low Energy Levels

Feeling perpetually drained may be about more than a hectic schedule or minimal sleep. Not getting enough omega-3 fats can lead to noticeable dips in your vitality. 

For chronic fatigue patients, one study found a low availability of omega-3 fats correlated to more severe symptoms, including pain, fatigue, and failing memory (2). This suggests that patients with chronic fatigue, or myalgic encephalomyelitis, should respond favorably to treatment with–among other things–omega-3 fatty acids.

Dry Skin and Hair

Omega-3s bolster the health of cell membranes, the protective barriers that keep your skin and hair looking and feeling their best. A lack of these fats can manifest in rough, flaky skin and brittle, lackluster locks.

Omega-3 fats are also helpful for those who have inflammatory skin disease, including psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, or contact hypersensitivity (3). 

Joint Pain and Inflammation

Inflammation is the body’s way of responding to injury and infection, but when it becomes chronic, it can lead to a host of issues, including joint discomfort. Omega-3s are known for their potent anti-inflammatory properties and can help manage this type of pain (4).

Read: How to Reduce Chronic Inflammation to Alleviate Joint Pain 

Depression & Other Mood Disorders

The brain is composed largely of fat, and omega-3s are a crucial component of its structure. A deficit in these fats has been linked to cognitive decline and mood disorders, underscoring the importance of omega-3 for mental well-being. Research has also shown that supplementation of omega-3s may be beneficial in treating depression and anxiety (5). 

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The Role of Omega-3 in Functional Medicine

Functional medicine operates on the belief that the body is an interconnected system and should be treated as such. Omega-3s play a multifaceted function in this framework, supporting various aspects of our health and well-being.

Impact on Brain Health and Cognitive Function

Intake of omega-3 fatty acids increases learning, memory, cognitive well-being, and blood flow in the brain (6).

DHA, one of the primary omega-3 fatty acids, is a major structural component of the brain. It is essential for brain development, cognitive function, and has been linked to a reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases. Omega-3 promotes cognition, preserves brain cell function, and protects against neurodegeneration.

Omega-3 fatty acids also appear to help alleviate oxidative stress, which studies suggest may play a role in nervous system disorders like fibromyalgia and myalgic encephalomyelitis (2).

Read: The Neurodegenerative Diseases That Actually Begin in the Gut

Support for Heart Health and Reducing Inflammation

Inflammation is recognized as a significant factor in the development of heart disease. Omega-3s have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce triglycerides, and have anti-inflammatory effects that are beneficial for heart health (7).

One study showed that taking fish oil supplements also resulted in lowering of inflammation markers such as C-reactive proteins, TNF-α and IL-6 in the blood (8). 

Then, a meta-analysis involving over 120,000 patients  found that supplementation with at least 1000 mg of omega-3s per day was associated with a lower risk of cardiac death, heart attack, and major vascular events (9). 

Related: The Warning Signs of Chronic Inflammation

Importance for Joint and Bone Health

The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s extend to their support for joint health. Regular consumption has been associated with reduced symptoms in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, as well as contributing to overall bone density health.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also useful in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Clinical studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids reduce the number of swollen and tender joints (10).

Role in Improving Mood and Mental Health

Depression and anxiety are among the most prevalent mental health disorders globally. Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to be effective in managing symptoms and improving overall mental health (11).

Studies have found that supplementation with anywhere from 700 mg to 2000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day can have a significant positive impact on improving a range of neurological and cognitive issues, including (12):

  • ADHD symptoms
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety disorders

Read: The Functional Medicine Approach to ADHD

Practical Tips for Increasing Omega-3 Intake

If you suspect you may be deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, there are several dietary and lifestyle changes you

The key to reaping the benefits of omega-3s is ensuring they’re consumed in the right quantities and from the right sources.

The general consensus among health organizations is that adults should aim for at least 1000 milligrams, combined, of DHA and EPA per day, from either fatty fish, dietary supplements, or a combination (13). 

For those with specific health concerns or conditions, higher amounts may be recommended.

Best Food Sources

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are among the richest sources of omega-3s.

Plant-based sources such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts offer a different type of omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid, which the body can convert to DHA and EPA, though much less efficiently than marine sources like fatty fish.

Considerations for Supplementation

For some, particularly those who don’t regularly eat a variety of fatty fish or have heightened needs for omega-3s, supplementation can be an effective way to ensure an adequate intake.

As with all dietary supplements, quality and dosage are crucial, and guidance from a healthcare professional is helpful.

Shop Omega-3 Supplements>>


Omega-3 fatty acids are not just a buzzword in the health and wellness community–they are a critical player in our daily fight for good health. By recognizing the signs of omega-3 deficiency, understanding their substantial roles in functional medicine, and optimizing our intake through diet and smart supplementation, we can unlock the vast potential these fatty acids hold for our overall well-being.

So whether you’re reassessing your pantry staples, considering a shift in supplementation, or merely heeding the cues of your own body, we can help you reach your goals.


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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.
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