What are omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil?

Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil may have some benefits for cardiovascular health, joint health and mental focus.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a category of fats that are vital for your cells to function properly. The only way to obtain omega-3 fatty acids is through your diet or through supplementation, because the body doesn't produce these important compounds. Fish oil is an excellent source for omega-3 fatty acids.

Two crucial omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These two compounds are primarily found in so-called oily fish such as salmon, tuna and trout.

Unfortunately, most people don't consume enough of the right kinds of fish to provide their bodies with the necessary amounts of these two vital omega-3 fatty acids.

What are the dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids?

Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Cold-water "oily" fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, lake trout and albacore tuna
  • Flaxseed
  • Walnuts

Fish is the best dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish each week. A serving of fish is 3.5 ounces of cooked fish, or 3/4 cup of flaked fish. Certain types of fish, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, are more likely to contain toxins, such as mercury. In the United States, state health departments usually issue advisories regarding the safe amount of locally caught fish that can be consumed. Women who are pregnant or nursing should be especially careful to follow their health care professional's guidance regarding fish consumption.

Should I consider taking a fish oil dietary supplement?

Omega-3 fatty acids support a wide variety of health functions. Some research shows that omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil can improve cardiovascular health.* In addition, they can help maintain proper brain and nerve function, and they provide support for healthy joints and eyes.* There's also some evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can help with weight management.*

Individuals who find it difficult to get enough omega-3 fatty acids through diet alone may wish to talk to their health care professionals about taking a fish oil dietary supplement.

How can omega-3 fatty acids affect my health?

Supplemental omega-3 fatty acids can support your health in several ways:

  • Support already healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels*
  • Promote cardiovascular health*
  • Help maintain already normal blood pressure*
  • Promote joint health*
  • Support a weight management program*
  • Promote eye health*
  • Support a healthy respiratory system*
  • Promote mental focus*
  • Help maintain muscle mass in older adults*
  • Promote a healthy immune system*

How much omega-3 fatty acids should I take?

Omega-3 fatty acid dietary supplements are available in multiple forms, including liquids and capsules. Most individuals can take 3 to 4 grams (3,000 to 4,000 milligrams) of an omega-3 fatty acid dietary supplement daily without experiencing any adverse side effects. Taking more than this amount might increase the risk of bleeding, particularly if you are also taking a blood-thinning medication.

Are there any side effects from taking a fish oil dietary supplement?

When taken as a dietary supplement, omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil can cause a fishy aftertaste and possible digestive problems such as heartburn or diarrhea. To help prevent these side effects, a fish oil dietary supplement should be taken with meals.

Is it safe to take a fish oil dietary supplement with other medications?

Because high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids might increase the risk of bleeding in individuals taking a blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven), aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or clopidogrel (Plavix), consult your health care professional before taking an omega-3 fatty acid dietary supplement if you routinely take any of these medications.

In addition, if you're allergic to fish or shellfish, talk with your health care professional before taking a fish oil dietary supplement.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Dec. 09, 2016 See more In-depth