Fish oil is the primary source of two omega-3 fatty acids -- eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA -- which prevent inflammation and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. The amount of time it takes for fish oil to take effect depends on a variety of factors, from your overall health to the dose and type of fish oil consumed, but your body should attain optimal levels within three months. Large doses of fish oil can cause side effects and interact with medications, so talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
Time Needed to Boost Levels
Blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids increase in proportion to the dose of fish oil. In large doses, optimal blood levels may be reached in about one month, but it will take longer for levels to improve in the brain and heart, reported the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in June 2006. In lab rats, levels of omega-3’s in the brain, heart and liver reached equilibrium after three months.
One producer of omega-3 products advises that most people experience benefits within three months. To reach and sustain levels of EPA and DHA, it's important to consistently consume the recommended amount of fish oil each day.
Your overall health may affect how quickly fish oil has an impact. If you’re deficient in EPA and DHA, the severity of the deficiency will influence how soon levels get back to normal. If you’re pregnant, some of the omega-3 fatty acids you consume will go to your baby.
The chemical form of the fish oil also makes a difference. Research is ongoing, and larger studies may produce different results, but one study published in Lipids in Health and Disease in August 2011 reported that blood levels of EPA and DHA increased more in study subjects taking krill oil, compared to those who took other forms of fish oil.
The Institute of Medicine may develop new guidelines, but for now it only recommends a daily intake for the plant-based form of omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. While your body converts some ALA into EPA and DHA, you can’t count on ALA to meet your body’s needs.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests consuming 500 milligrams of combined EPA and DHA daily. Eating a 3.5-ounce serving of fish twice a week is recommended by the American Heart Association for healthy people. An excellent source is salmon; other good sources include mackerel, trout, sardines, canned light tuna and flounder.
Getting too much fish oil may cause side effects, such as bleeding and a weakened immune system. If you take medications to treat diabetes or thin blood, don’t take any fish oil supplements until you consult your physician.
Some people experience minor side effects, such as gas, bloating and diarrhea. Taking several smaller doses during the day or using time-release supplements may prevent these problems.
If you eat foods that are fortified with fish oil, be sure to include the amount in your daily tally. Combining supplements with fortified foods makes it easy to exceed 3 grams, warns a study in Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids in September 2013.
- Lipids in Health and Disease: Incorporation of EPA and DHA into Plasma Phospholipids in Response to Different Omega-3 Fatty Acid Formulations -- A Comparative Bioavailability Study of Fish Oil vs. Krill Oil
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Distribution, Interconversion, and Dose Response of N-3 Fatty Acids in Humans
- Ascenta Health: Omega-3 and You: FAQs
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Dietary Fatty Acids for Healthy Adults
- American Heart Association: Fish 101
- Linus Pauling Institute: Essential Fatty Acids
- Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids: Long Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acid Immunomodulation and the Potential for Adverse Health Outcomes