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Can Fish Oil Capsules Irritate the Stomach?

author image Rachel Nall
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.
Can Fish Oil Capsules Irritate the Stomach?
Fish oil supplements can upset your stomach.

Taking fish oil supplements can increase the amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in your body. These powerful inflammation fighters are recommended to relieve conditions ranging from high triglycerides to rheumatoid arthritis. However, like many supplements, fish oil capsules can cause side effects in some people, including stomach upset. If you experience this side effect as a result of taking fish oil, it is possible to take steps to minimize your discomfort.

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Also known as gastritis, inflammation or irritation of the stomach lining is a common occurrence. When you take fish oil supplements, they can irritate the stomach lining because they must be digested just as the oils found in a whole serving of fish would. If you have not taken fish oil previously and begin taking high doses of fish oil -- typically about 3 g of fish oil -- your stomach may become irritated because it is not accustomed to digesting this amount of fatty acids. To digest fats in your body, your stomach and intestines must obtain bile from the liver or gallbladder. Taking too much fish oil at once can cause slow digestion or even block digestion because bile release can take time to properly occur.

Stomach Side Effects

Some people report a variety of stomach irritation symptoms associated with taking fish oil. This includes increased belching and incidence of bad breath. Heartburn and nausea are other stomach upset symptoms you can experience after taking fish oil capsules. You also may experience loose stools. If you have severe stomach upset symptoms, such as blood in your stool, see your physician.


If you experience stomach irritation related to taking fish oil capsules, start by temporarily reducing your dosage. This allows your stomach to become better-acclimated to digesting the fish oil supplements. Over time, you can increase your dosage to your recommended levels. You also can store your fish oil capsules in the freezer; taking them cold seems to reduce stomach upset. Another step is to take the fish oil supplement with meals, which increases the amount of stomach acid that can help to digest the fish oil more comfortably.


As your stomach becomes more accustomed to digesting fish oil, you may find it can relieve stomach irritation due to infection, illness or foods known to cause stomach irritation like alcohol, coffee or fried foods. This is because omega-3 fatty acids are natural inflammation fighters in the body and can help to relieve stomach irritation symptoms. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends taking between one and two capsules of fish oil per day to relieve stomach irritation symptoms.

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