We’ve all heard about the benefits of fish oil through the years: The oils present in the tissues of certain fish which contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s), the “essential” fats that are said to contribute to the prevention of heart disease and stroke (1,2), lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, and help in the treatment of kidney disease. This “brain food” is also thought to help in the treatment of depression, bipolar disease, Alzheimer’s, and ADHD. Furthermore, fish oil can be used to treat painful periods, breast pain, and studies have shown it to aid in preventing miscarriage. (3,4)
However, these benefits are still being tested. For example, in March 2017, the American Heart Association stated that fish oil may not prevent heart disease in all people as previously thought. Instead, they have modified their stance to say that fish oil may be useful in preventing heart disease-related death in people who recently suffered heart attack or in patients with heart failure. (5)
Our bodies can’t produce omega-3s themselves, so we need to obtain them from other sources. The best place to get omega-3s is straight from the foods we eat. Wild fish that are high in omega-3s include salmon, tuna, anchovies, sardines, and lake trout. Farm-raised fish can also be high in omega-3s, but can contain higher levels of contaminants, so these should be eaten less often. (3) Additionally, soybean, canola, and flaxseed oils, as well as walnuts, flaxseed, basil, dried oregano, and grape leaves all contain high levels of omega-3s. (3,6)
Fish oil supplements are a great option for people who are on vegan diets or who may not be able to afford fresh fish, which can be expensive.
For all the benefits fish oil is said to have, there can be several adverse effects at high doses, including but not limited to an increase in bleeding in patients with bleeding disorders or who are on drugs that increase the risk of bleeding. Fish oil may also affect blood sugar levels and those with hormone imbalance or who are going through hormone therapy should use with caution. Additionally, fish oil may cause bad breath, frequent urination, constipation, gas, and dizziness. (7)
The FDA generally regards omega-3s safe when we eat 1-2 servings of fish per week or supplements are taken at a recommended dosage over the course of 2-3.5 years. (7) In general, healthy adults can safely take between 250 and 3000 mg EPA and DHA (the primary beneficial omega-3s) combined per day. (8) However, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should opt for supplements rather than eating certain fish due to their high mercury levels. (3)
Here are some recipes to get your omega-3s naturally!