Medically reviewed by
Diana Morgan, MS, CISSN
10 min read
Fish oil is included in the daily supplement regimen for many people. Why? The evidence-based benefits! Luckily, this supplement has received a lot of attention over the past decade. This attention has triggered more research and, ultimately, revealed more benefits related to fish oil use. If you're interested in fish oil it's important to make sure you're taking the right amount to get all the benefits.
It is important to state that you likely won’t feel the benefits associated with fish oil. For example, it is not really possible to feel improvements in heart health. That doesn’t mean it is not working though. The length of time it takes to see benefits from fish oil will differ from one person to the next. This time is also impacted by the benefit that is desired. Generally, fish oil does not produce results very quickly. Most people will start to see benefits after taking fish oil daily for a time between four weeks and three months. It is unlikely, however, that you will discontinue fish oil after this duration of time, even if you do start to see benefits. Most people will take fish oil for many months or years to maintain the desired effect. Your physician can help you determine how long to stay on fish oil.
The primary reason for taking fish oil is because fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are linked to a wide breadth of benefits like joint, brain, heart, and eye health and can only be obtained through your diet from foods like fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseed, and canola, or from supplementing. Let’s dive into some of the benefits of fish oil a little more:
Heart: One of the primary reasons that people consider taking a fish oil supplement is for the heart health benefits. Studies have shown that fish oil may help people reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, improve their blood pressure, or decrease their cholesterol levels.
Joints: Fish oil has shown promising results for joint health. One 12 month, double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that patients taking 2,600mg of omega-3 per day experienced less joint pain than those taking a placebo.
Brain: Fish oil may also provide cognitive benefits. In a 2005 clinical study, omega-3 supplementation was associated with an improvement in attention and mood for the omega-3 group versus the placebo group. A population-based study performed a year earlier found that people who consumed more fish in their diet performed better on cognitive battery tests.
Eyes: Fish oil may provide benefits for those suffering from dry eyes. 518 patients with dry eye symptoms were enrolled in a 2013 study. 65% of patients in the omega-3 group and 33% of patients in placebo group had significant improvement in symptoms at 3 months.
Although there are several types of foods and supplements that can provide you with omega-3s (e.g. algae sources for vegans), fish oil may be the superior source. This has to do with the different types of omega-3s that exist. Fish oil contains two types of omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Most major benefits linked to omega-3s have been to EPA and DHA. Alternative sources often contain an omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). At this time, it does not appear that ALA can confer the benefits that EPA and DHA can. Therefore, if you are selecting a source alternative to fish oil (e.g. vegan option), it is important to make sure it contains EPA and DHA.
Given the large number of possible benefits, there is not a specific dose of fish oil that each person should aim for. Rather, the dose often depends on the desired benefit. For example, physicians often recommend much higher doses for individuals that are taking fish oil for heart benefits (e.g. cholesterol changes). Your physician can help you determine the ideal dose. Many people are instructed to take a dose between 1,000 mg and 2,000 mg of fish oil. This dose normally provides between 250 mg and 600 mg of EPA and DHA (the most important omega-3s).
Omega-3s are essential for every person, not just those people that are seeking a health benefit. While we are able to get omega-3s from some food sources (e.g. flax seed), our diet is often inadequate when it comes to omega-3s. Therefore, supplementing with fish oil can help you achieve a proper amount of omega-3s each day. By taking fish oil, you may improve your chances of avoiding some health concerns.
Pregnancy is a very important time to consider how much EPA and DHA you are getting each day. These omega-3 fatty acids are essential for fetal development and cannot be overlooked. Omega-3 fatty acids like DHA from Fish Oil (or a vegan source like Veggie Omega) are essential nutrients that help maintain your cognitive health while also supporting your baby's nervous system and brain health. Many people cut back on fish, a source of omega-3s, during pregnancy and breastfeeding to avoid mercury, so Fish Oil may be a great way to get these healthy omegas.
The general recommendation is that an expecting mother should get 300 mg of EPA and DHA. Some resources expand further on this requirement and say that at least 200 mg of that 300 mg should be DHA. This is because DHA is critical for development during the third trimester. You should speak with your physician to determine what source and dose of EPA and DHA are ideal for you.
There is not a certain time of day that you need to take your fish oil supplement. There are certain strategies, however, that can improve your experience and the results you see. Fish oil supplements are known for causing issues such as reflux, belching (fishy burps), and indigestion. These concerns can often be alleviated by taking your fish oil supplement with a meal. Some people also like to store their fish oil capsules in the fridge to reduce the likelihood of them causing belching. In addition, a meal with fat content may be most ideal. Omega-3 fatty acids may be absorbed best when you take them with a fat-containing meal. You don’t need to add fatty products to your meal just for this reason though.
Although standard doses are safe for most people, there are concerns with taking high doses for some. For example, fish oil may alter your blood sugar levels, clotting ability, and blood pressure. As mentioned above, fish oil often also causes digestive issues for many people (e.g. indigestion, diarrhea, and reflux). Some people find that these mild digestive effects are eliminated when taking a veggie omega (plant-based).
When selecting a fish oil supplement, it is important to purchase from a company that sources their ingredients responsibly. For example, sustainable fishing practices or fish-raising practices are very important to consider for fish oil. Ideally, your supplement of choice will also break down the source of omega-3s and list the amount of EPA and DHA in each dose. “EPA” and “DHA” should be listed on separate lines on the product’s label itself. Fish oil is available from a large number of sources, but you want to select a product from a reputable brand to ensure you are getting a high quality product.