Can You Overdose on Fish Oil?

Fish oil is a popular health supplement available in many forms. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat at least two servings (3.5 ounces each) of fish per week. Fish, especially fatty fish, are rich in beneficial nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids. If you aren't getting enough fish in your diet, fish oil can help you increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids you're consuming.

Fish oil is hard to overdose on; doses of up to 15 grams are considered safe. (Image: banusevim/iStock/GettyImages)

Tip

Fish oil is a healthy supplement available as a pill or liquid. You can't really overdose on fish oil, but high doses can cause gastrointestinal side effects.

Fish Oil Supplements

Fish oil and other types of omega-3 supplements are made from marine animals and plants. It's available in both liquid and pill form. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are beneficial for a wide variety of purposes. They've been shown to help treat diabetes, digestive system disorders, inflammatory and rheumatological diseases, neurological and neuropsychological conditions, and respiratory diseases. They may also be able to help prevent cancer. As little as 250 milligrams of omega-3s each day have been shown to reduce the risk of heart problems.

There are many types of omega-3 fatty acids, but DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are the ones with the most promoted health benefits. You can obtain DHA and EPA from foods like fatty fish and seaweed, but it's possible to obtain other omega-3 fatty acids, like alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), from nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a total of 1.1 to 1.6 grams of omega-3s each day.

Recommended Fish Oil Dosages

Fish oil is sold in various types and dosages. Most fish oil supplements provide about 1,000 milligrams of fish oil containing 180 milligrams of EPA and 120 milligrams of DHA. However, extra-strength fish oil supplements contain as much as 504 milligrams of EPA and 378 milligrams of DHA per 1,400-milligram fish oil capsule. In general, you should consume only 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids from supplements. The FDA recommends not more than 3 grams of combined EPA and DHA per day.

Clinically, fish oil is considered very safe. Although the FDA recommends no more than 3 grams, other authorities list the maximum dose you can consume as much more. The European Food Safety Authority recommends doses as high as 5 grams per day, and clinical trials have used doses of up to 15 grams per day. It's unlikely that you could overdose on fish oil, but high doses do cause a few problems.

Fish Oil Side Effects

The most common side effects of fish oil pills are "fishy breath" and indigestion, which can cause bloating, discomfort, heartburn and nausea. Other symptoms include diarrhea and stomach aches or cramps. In very high doses, too much omega-3 can cause reduced immune function or increased bleeding. Fortunately, unless your doctor has recommended high doses of omega-3 fatty acids, you shouldn't need to take a lot of fish oil and, consequently, shouldn't experience these side effects. Consult your doctor before starting fish oil supplements to find out the amount of omega-3s that is best for you.

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