Fish Oil and Acid Reflux

Fish oil supplements provide an opportunity for you to get a daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids without having to cook the fish. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, including reducing high triglyceride levels in the body that can increase your risk for heart disease. While there are many positive effects from taking fish oil, you also can experience side effects, such as acid reflux.

A spoonful of fish oil gel caps on burlap. (Image: Rutchapong/iStock/Getty Images)

Significance

To get to your stomach, food has to travel down a long, thin tube called the esophagus that connects your mouth to your stomach. The lower part of the esophagus has a valve that closes after food travels down to prevent food from refluxing, or coming back up. When you experience acid reflux, the lower esophageal sphincter fails to close properly and digestive acids from the stomach reflux up the esophagus, causing pain that creates a burning sensation across your chest. You also may experience a dry cough, difficulty breathing or trouble swallowing.

Causes

Acid reflux is a common condition that can be brought on by many factors. In the case of taking fish oil supplements, the oil may irritate the stomach, which can cause symptoms. Some risk factors of experiencing acid reflux include having a hiatal hernia in the upper portion of the stomach or if you are obese, pregnant or a smoker. These factors put you at greater risk for experiencing acid reflux, and taking the fish oil supplement can further aggravate your symptoms.

Side Effects

In addition to acid reflux symptoms, fish oil supplements can cause other digestive side effects. This includes belching, bad breath, heartburn and nausea. You also may experience loose stools, rash and nosebleeds. Also, extremely high doses of fish oil supplements can increase your risk of bleeding and impair your blood’s ability to clot. Avoid taking more than 3 grams of fish oil -- considered a high dosage -- per day to minimize the potential bleeding effects.

Solutions

If you experience acid reflux related to taking fish oil pills, you can minimize this effect by taking fish oil pills with meals. Try to avoid foods known to cause acid reflux, including citrus fruit, chocolate, foods with caffeine, garlic, onions, spicy foods, tomato-based foods and fried foods. Another method is to freeze the fish oil supplements before taking them, which seems to reduce acid reflux and other digestive symptoms. Another method is to start by taking a lower dosage of fish oil, then slowly increasing your dosage as your body becomes acclimated to digesting it. If your acid reflux symptoms persist, see your physician, who can recommend stronger treatment options. If left untreated, acid reflux can lead to tissue damage along the digestive system, which can have painful consequences.

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