Ever since researchers discovered that Greenland Eskimos had really low rates of heart disease because of all of the fish they ate, fish oil has been a hot topic. And once supplement manufacturers realized they could bottle and sell it, fish oil really took off.
So let’s dish about fish – here’s everything you need to know about fish oil supplements.
What conditions does fish oil really help?
It’s been proven that the Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid – prevent heart disease, improve cholesterol by reducing triglyceride levels, and prevent heart attacks, stroke, and death in people who already have heart disease.
While Dr. Google will tell you that fish oil will cure rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, depression, bipolar disorder, menstrual pain, and certain kidney problems, there isn’t a lot of good evidence to back that up at this point.
Is taking a fish oil supplement the same as eating fish?
Obviously, the best way to consume fish oil is to eat oily fish. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least two servings per week for cardiovascular health. A serving is 3 ounces (the size of a deck of cards, or ¾ of a cup). So if you can afford, prepare and stomach salmon a couple times per week, you can skip the fish oil capsules.
How much fish oil supplement should you take?
A good target intake is between 250 and 500 mg per day of EPA + DHA. You could get that in a daily 1 gram fish oil supplement, which contains between 200 and 800 mg of EPA + DHA, depending on the formulation and manufacturer.
Do fish oil capsules have side effects?
The most common side effects are nausea, heartburn, a fishy aftertaste, and burping. Taking them with food or refrigerating them helps a lot, but some brands can’t be refrigerated so be sure to check with your pharmacist. In general, fish oil capsules have an “expiration date” of about 90 days after opening a new bottle. Capsules with a very strong or spoiled smell should be thrown away.
Can you get mercury poisoning from taking fish oil supplements?
There’s been a lot of concern lately about mercury contamination in the world’s fish supply. In general, this is more of a concern for pregnant women and young children, but it’s always a good idea to pay attention to what you’re eating. Fish known to be low in mercury include shrimp, canned light tuna (not albacore), salmon, pollock, and catfish.
Fish oil capsules are generally low in mercury and other pollutants. But to be safe, only buy products with the “USP Verified Mark” on the label; these have been tested and found to contain acceptable levels of mercury.
Jason Goodman, PharmD, RPh
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University