This post was written by Emma Pastula, PharmD, Parkview Health.
Take one look at the crowded shelves stocked with supplements at the nearest pharmacy, and you’re sure to feel overwhelmed. Among the most common selections, fish oil has garnered popularity over the years for delivering a dose of omega-3s, DHA and/or EPA. But is it right for you?
What is fish oil commonly used for?
The most common uses are helping to reduce the risk of high cholesterol and use as a dietary supplement. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice per week. Fatty fish like salmon and anchovies, as well as fish oil supplements are a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids work to reduce fats in the blood called triglycerides.
Fish oil may have anti-inflammatory benefits that can relieve symptoms caused by other conditions as well. It’s best to seek advice from your doctor if you want to try supplementation. Please note that fish oil should not replace prescription medications prescribed by your doctor.
What are some common side effects?
Fish oil supplements are generally regarded as safe. Do not take fish oil capsules if you are allergic to fish. Some common side effects include:
- Fishy aftertaste
- Bad breath
- Nausea and diarrhea
Other rare, but serious side effects have been reported from fish oil. Contact your pharmacist or doctor if you experience side effects. You should continue to have bloodwork and cholesterol monitoring as recommended by your doctor while taking fish oil.
How do you take fish oil?
Fish oil is thought to be safe in doses up to 3 grams per day. Taking more than 3 grams per day may increase the risk of bleeding. Always refer to the instructions on the bottle of your supplement.
When selecting a fish oil, the amount of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) will be reported on the label. There is more evidence supporting the role of EPA in heart health. When taking fish oil for heart health, look for supplements with higher concentrations of EPA than DHA.
Fish oil supplements may interact with medications like warfarin or other anticoagulants, blood pressure medications, oral contraceptives and/or weight loss medications. You should consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking if you use one of these medications.
Where can you go to find more information?
The American Heart Association has many great resources related to heart disease and cholesterol, with recommendations for ways to promote heart health through lifestyle and dietary modifications. You can also explore the Heart Health category on the Parkview Dashboard for articles written by Parkview providers and experts.
Mayo Clinic Staff. Fish oil. Mayo Clinic. Accessed February 23, 2023.
Lexicomp. Omega-3-acid ethyl esters (fish oil): Drug information. Up-to-date. Accessed February 23, 2023.
TRC. Natural Medicines. Fish Oil. Accessed February 23, 2022.