Fish oil is a common supplement available in liquid and capsule form. It's beneficial because it contains omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have been helpful in the treatment and prevention of many different diseases. Despite their benefits to your health, fish oil is also known to cause certain side effects, like burping, fishy breath and nausea.
Fish oil often causes gastrointestinal side effects like burping and indigestion. The type of fish oil pill, how many you're taking and when you're taking them can influence whether or not you'll experience such side effects.
Fish Oil and Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fatty acids. Although omega-3s are made up of both short-chain and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, the long-chain fatty acids have the most well-known effects on your health. When you buy fish oil, the amounts of long-chain fatty acids, such as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), DPA (docosapentaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), are typically mentioned. Clinically, DHA and EPA have been used to help treat various conditions, including cancer, diabetes, eye diseases, heart problems, neuropsychological issues, respiratory conditions and rheumatological disorders.
Fish Oil Side Effects
When taken for medical reasons, omega-3 fatty acids are typically required to be taken in high doses. This means that you may be taking several fish oil pills per day. The FDA, as cited by the National Institutes of Health, recommends no more than 3 grams of combined EPA and DHA per day, but larger amounts have been safely used in clinical studies.
Fish oil pills, especially in large doses, may come with side effects. Fish oil side effects include burping, diarrhea, fishy breath, heartburn, indigestion and nausea. Fish oil burps are one of the most common side effects that occur when taking fish oil supplements. Since fish oil comes from natural marine sources, it’s not really possible to take omega-3 fish oil without the fishy taste. Even vegan omega-3 supplements are made from marine products, like seaweed or algae, and may come with a similar fishy flavor and side effects. However, if you’re experiencing fish oil burps or other forms of indigestion, keep in mind that there are ways to alleviate your symptoms.
Manufacturers make omega-3 supplements in different ways, which means that the variety of ingredients they use can cause or influence the severity of side effects. A 2014 study in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews showed that capsule type plays a major role in fish oil side effects. For example, gelatin capsules have been known to cause burping and other upper gastrointestinal tract symptoms. Timed-release capsules, on the other hand, have been linked to lower digestive tract symptoms, like diarrhea.
If you’re experiencing side effects like burping or heartburn, you can try switching the type of fish oil pills you’re taking to see whether your symptoms improve. In a 2008 article in Mayo Clinic's Proceedings journal, the authors pointed out that gastrointestinal side effects like burping could possibly be avoided by keeping your fish oil capsules in the freezer or taking them with meals. Another approach is to take them before bed when you’re less likely to notice symptoms. If unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects like burping keep occurring, talk to your doctor about reducing your dosage of omega-3 fatty acids. Your body may need time to adjust to fish oil supplements, especially those at high doses.
- National Institutes of Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil) for Maintenance of Remission in Crohn's Disease
- Mayo Clinic Proceedings: Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Cardioprotection
- Annals of Clinical Psychiatry: Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Psychiatry: A Review
- BMJ: Risks and Benefits of Omega-3 Fats for Mortality, Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer: Systematic Review
- Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: A Meta-Analytic Review of Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trials of Antidepressant Efficacy of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Health and Disease and in Growth and Development
- Lipid Technology: Dietary Sources, Current Intakes and Nutritional Role of Omega-3 Docosapentaenoic Acid
- BMJ Postgraduate Medical Journal: Omega-3 Fatty Acids: A Comprehensive review of Their Role in Health and Disease
- Cleveland.com: Avoiding Intestinal Distress Caused by Omega-3 Fish Oil Capsules
- DSM: The First Vegetarian EPA/DHA Alternative to Fish Oil