Fish oil for supplements come from cold-water fish, such as salmon, anchovies, tuna, trout, mackerel and halibut. They contain compounds called omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with several health benefits. The typical American’s diet is deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, but taking fish oil pills helps boost your intake of the beneficial fatty acid.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also commonly referred to as essential fatty acids because they’re necessary for good health, but your body cannot produce them. The two omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil capsules are docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, or DHA and EPA. These essential fatty acids are necessary for brain development and healthy cognitive function. They also help to keep your skin healthy, improve blood circulation and reduce inflammation and triglyceride levels. Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the risk of conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer, such as breast and prostate. The University of Maryland Medical Center points out that more studies are needed to confirm the benefits of omega-3 in preventing some illnesses, such as breast cancer and skin disorders.
When you’re taking fish oil capsules, it’s the docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid content that matters. For general health and disease prevention, if you don’t consume fatty fish at least twice a week, you can take 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA combined, notes registered dietitian Leslie Beck, author of “The Complete A-Z Nutrition Encyclopedia.” For treating coronary heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends taking 1,000 milligrams of a combination of EPA and DHA per day. To lower triglycerides and prevent heart disease, take a combo of 2,000 to 4,000 milligrams of EPA and DHA.
Most fish oil capsules come in 300, 500 or 600 milligrams of EPA and DHA combined, notes Beck. However, you can also find them in doses of up to 1,200 milligrams. The number of pills you need to take depends on the amount of omega-3 fats in each pill. For example, if you’re taking a 500 milligram capsule, you’ll need one pill daily for general health and two pills daily to treat coronary heart disease. To treat high triglyceride levels, you’ll need between four and eight capsules daily in divided doses. However, you’ll want to check with your physician before starting a new supplement regimen.
Do not take more than 3,000 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil capsules without your doctor’s advice. Taking too much fish oil increases the risk of bleeding. In some cases, high levels of fish oil can cause belching, bloating, diarrhea and gas. If you are taking a blood-thinning medication, if you have a bleeding disorder or have other medical conditions, talk with your health care provider before taking fish supplements. They could interfere with your medications or treatment plan.