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Fish Oil: Evidence-Based Information On What Works (Benefits, Possible Side Effects, & Important Facts)

Fish Oil: Evidence-Based Information On What Works (Benefits, Possible Side Effects, & Important Facts)

Fish oil is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. Although seemingly important, there is conflicting evidence-based information on what works.

fish oil

Extensive research has been done on omega-3s, especially the types found in seafood (fish & shellfish) & fish oil supplements. Image via Shutterstock

What are Omega-3s?

As an essential fatty acid, it’s one type that needs to be eaten or taken as a supplement since your body does not make it on its own.

These essential fatty acids are important for brain function, growth, and development (especially with a growing baby and child) and fighting inflammation.

If we are deficient in omega-3 some problems that may arise[1]

  • cardiovascular disease
  • some cancers
  • mood disorders
  • arthritis
  • rough, scaly skin

What are the Benefits of Omega-3?

The benefits of Omega-3 include[1][2]:

  • Research shows those who eat seafood (provides naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acids) one-4 times a week are less likely to die of heart disease
  • It may relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
  • High doses can reduce triglyceride levels
  • May slow progression of eye disease
  • Important in the formation of cell membranes
  • Provide energy for the body
  • May help reduce inflammation
  • May improve mental health
  • Used to form eicosanoids; these have functions in the body’s cardiovascular system, pulmonary system, immunity and endocrine system
Research says that these benefits are amongst the reasons why Americans spend more than $1 billion a year on fish oil supplements. To add to that, food companies are also adding it to milk, yogurt, cereal, chocolate, cookies, juice, and many other foods.

How much fish oil should I take daily?

It is recommended that adults eat 8 or more ounces of seafood per week and naturally, smaller amounts are recommended for children[6].

The Food and Drug Administration(FDA) claims that you should not exceed 3,000mg per day. In the end, you should consult your physician on the appropriate consumption or if a supplement is necessary.

Can you take too much Omega-3 Supplements?

Caution should be taken to not exceed the recommended amounts. Omega-3 can cause blood to thin and too much vitamin A can be toxic as some sources of omega-3 supplements are high in vitamin A. 

Of the biggest concerns are those people who are taking the supplements and eating several servings of omega-3 rich foods per day. Too much omega-3 could alter immune function.

Is Fish Oil safe?

For omega-3 supplementation in general, there are only mild side effects:

  • bad breath
  • loose stools
  • indigestion
  • nausea
  • fish aftertaste

Fish oil supplements may be a great way to increase your health if you are not eating fatty fish on a regular basis but there is research that may say otherwise.

There’s conflicting evidence omega-3 may influence the risk of prostate cancer[2].

In November of 2018, a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine found that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation did not prove to lower cardiovascular complications.

More research reported in this same journal in 2013, reported no benefits in people with risk factors for heart disease[3].

Some research analysis even suggests looking for other ways to prevent vascular events and to stop depending so much on omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil supplementation[4].

What is the best Fish Oil Supplement?

Fish oil supplements contain EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

EPA and DHA are fish derived omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have been shown to have been associated with fetal development, cardiovascular function and Alzheimer’s disease[5].

Be cautious because fish oil may turn rancid. Be sure you are familiar with the company you are purchasing your supplements from.

NOTE: Always consult with your doctor if you are using fish oil supplements especially if you are taking medications for blood clotting.

How else can we get Omega-3 fatty acids?

Although EPA and DHA can be produced by some water plants, it is still a challenge to get enough through diet alone.

Other plant oils such as flax, soybean are more abundant in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a different type of omega-3. This is why supplementation may be necessary.

Dietary Supplementation

  • Fish oil
  • Fish liver oil
  • Krill oil
  • Algal oils
  • Flaxseed oil

Krill Oil Plus is one of the most commonly consumed dietary supplements in the market. It’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are very important for your joint and brain health.

Is whole food better than supplements?

  • Fresh fish and shellfish
  • Flaxseed, soybean, canola oils have alpha-linoleic acid which is a plant source of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Chia seeds and black walnuts also have alpha-linoleic acids

Conclusion

Proper nutrition is important for growth and development, strong immunity, disease prevention, hormonal balance and more (source). Overall well-being and nutrition go hand-in-hand.

Whole food nutrition should always be your first choice over-supplementation but there are those essential nutrients that your body will not provide naturally.

Sometimes the foods that could fill this gap may not be as abundant in those essential nutrients.

This is where supplementation could play an important role.

Consulting your physician and researching your concerns are important when choosing if you will supplement, as well as choosing the proper supplementation.

Always remember, whether it’s fish oil or salmon, find what’s going to work best for YOU!

Feedback:

References

[1] Omega-3 Fatty Acids - The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
[2] Omega-3 Supplements: In Depth | U.S. Department of Health and Human Services | National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) https://nccih.nih.gov/health/omega3/introduction.htm
[3] Fish oil: friend or foe? | Harvard Health https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/fish-oil-friend-or-foe-201307126467
[4] Do n-3 Supplements Prevent Cardiovascular Disease in Patients with Diabetes? | Harlan M. Krumholz, MD, SM reviewing The ASCEND Study Collaborative Group. N Engl J Med 2018 Aug 26
[5] Adv Nutr. 2012 Jan; 3(1): 1–7.Published online 2012 Jan 5. doi: 10.3945/an.111.000893PMCID: PMC3262608PMID: 22332096 Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA: Health Benefits Throughout Life https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3262608/
[6] 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines - health.gov https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/
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Jackie Vega, RDN

Jackie Vega, RDN, is the owner of The Wellness Solution, a personal fitness and wellness practice in south Florida specializing in reci...

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