Omega-3 fatty acids promote good heart and brain health but your body doesn’t produce them; you can only get them from the food you eat — mainly fish. They are polyunsaturated fats which are necessary for normal brain function and normal development and growth. You can also get omega-3 fatty acids from supplements. Fish oil is known to have many health benefits, such as reducing inflammation, improving cognitive skills, and lowering your risk of cancer, arthritis and heart disease. However, using supplements in general should never be done without medical supervision.
Fish oil is widely known for its heart-healthy benefits. The National Institutes of Health’s Medline Plus states that fish oil can lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels, reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke. Fish oil may also slow or reverse the progression of athersclerosis, or hardening of the coronary arteries.
Fish is your best source of omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, trout, herring, bluefish, and mullet are highly rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, with 1 gram per 3.5 ounces of fish, according to Medline Plus. Fish oil supplements contain oil from tuna, halibut, cod liver, mackerel, herring, salmon, whale blubber or seal blubber, combined with a small amount of vitamin E to prevent spoilage. The supplements may also contain calcium, vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C or D, and iron.
A healthy diet that includes at least two servings of fish twice a week provides all the omega-3 fatty acids you need. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends no more than 3 g per day for healthy adults taking supplements. Make sure your supplements are from a vendor who can certify their capsules do not contain heavy metals like lead, mercury or cadmium. Children should not take fish oil unless under medical supervision.
Fish oil does have potential side effects. The Mayo Clinic recommends taking supplements with meals and/or starting with a low dosage to minimize uncomfortable symptoms such as severe diarrhea, bloating, increased burping/belching, indigestion/heartburn/acid reflux, and abdominal pain. Other side effects include bad breath, nausea, rash and nosebleeds.
Certain individuals may take higher dosages of fish oil under a doctor‘s supervision, such as persons with high cholesterol or heart disease. Others should not exceed recommended dosages. High doses of fish oil can increase your risk for bleeding and blood clotting problems, so proceed with caution if you bruise easily, have a bleeding disorder or take blood-thinners such as warfarin. Too much fish oil may also lower your immunity; raise your LDL or bad cholesterol; elevate blood sugar; cause an allergic reaction if you’re allergic to seafood; and cause dangerously low blood pressure. Consult your doctor before taking fish oil supplements if you are taking blood pressure, cholesterol-lowering or diabetic medications