What Are the Side Effects of Fish Oil Supplements?
Fish oil supplements have become a highly recommended supplement. It has been suggested that they can help treat dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, heart disease, bipolar disorder, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, depression, and even cancer. While some of these claims are well supported by research, not all of them are. Nonetheless, it is clear that there can be benefits to taking fish oil supplements, because none of us gets the full benefit from the foods we eat.
Fish oil comes from the fat of fish. That's pretty simple, but many of us don't eat fish very often. In fact, with today's pollution issues, many of the fish that are supposed to be healthy may not actually be very good for us to eat too often due to the risk of heavy metal poisoning. That leaves supplements as a much safer way to take advantage of fish, without the dangerous heavy metals.
But what are the side effects of taking fish oil supplements?
Consult Your Doctor
Always consult your doctor before taking a new supplement or vitamin.
Very Common Side Effects
Digestion issues is the biggest complaint of people taking fish oil supplements. This can include a wide range of discomforts including diarrhea, upset stomach, burping, acid reflux, heartburn, indigestion, abdominal bloating, abdominal pain, and a fishy after taste. In most cases these aren't serious problems though they do cause discomfort. There are a few things that are recommended to help avoid these issues when you start taking fish oil supplements.
- Always take them with a meal. This helps eliminate some of the burping, the fishy after taste, and often helps them digest better (making it less likely that you will experience bloating and abdominal pain).
- Start at the lowest dose possible (usually one capsule a day) so that your body gets used to digesting the fish oil and then increase slowly to the amount you desire to take each day.
- Choose a capsule form and avoid liquid forms since liquid hits your system all at once and is going to make it harder to digest quickly.
- Buying a better quality of fish oil supplement is also supposed to help. Not all supplements are equal.
More Serious Side Effects
While no one wants to deal with indigestion and issues surrounding it, it really isn't serious. There aren't many serious side effects of fish oil, however there are some that occur when large doses of the supplement are consumed. There are also some easy ways to solve these problems and make sure that you don't suffer from them.
Taking too much- Taking too much fish oil supplement is relatively easy to do. There is no "daily allowance" and each company has their own suggestion as to how much you should take. If you do take large doses of fish oil for an extended period of time you are at risk for bleeding problems. You may get nose bleeds or notice blood in your urine. Your platelets will have trouble clotting and you could even end up having a stroke. So, it is important that you don't take too much, especially for too long.
How much is too much? That's the scary part. We really aren't sure because there isn't a maximum amount that you should take. However it is recommended that men take 1600 mg and women take 1100mg a day. Aim for something just under this number. The only time you should take more then that amount is if your doctor tells you to, as he or she will be monitoring your condition.
Vitamin E overdose- Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin. The digestion process of fish oil often uses vitamin E and can tax the system and deplete vitamin E resources. To eliminate this issue most fish oil products contain vitamin E. If you are also taking other vitamin E enriched products you can get a vitamin E overdose.
Making sure it doesn't happen to you. Read all labels clearly and know what you are taking with each enriched product. Choose them carefully and know that you are not exceeding recommended levels of Vitamin E. You can find fish oil supplements without Vitamin E or choose your other supplements and vitamins to meet your needs, but not exceed them.
Vitamin A and D overdose- Fish oil made from cod liver (or other fish livers) are often advertised as being even better for you then fish oil. While it is true that fish liver oil has more of the nutrients that are good for you, it also has vitamin A and D. The problem here is that these fat soluble vitamins are a huge part of our daily lives. We get them in the milk we drink, we get Vitamin D from the sun, we get them in our daily multivitamin and with all these sources it is easy to overdose on vitamin A and D.
Making sure it doesn't happen to you. You can avoid a Vitamin A and/or) D overdose by avoiding fish oil supplements made from fish liver.
Are There People Who Shouldn't Take Fish Oil?
Most who support fish oil and its consumption would have you believe that it is the perfect supplement for everyone and will help with a lot of common issues. It is supposed to give you energy and make you feel even better then before. But there are people who should avoid it for a variety of reasons.
Allergies- Those who are allergic or hypersensitive to fish should avoid fish oil. The chances that they will have an allergic reaction to the supplement is very likely and this could be dangerous for some.
Low blood pressure or on blood pressure medications- Those who struggle with low blood pressure or those on blood pressure lowering medications should avoid fish oil. One of its side effects (or benefits depending on who you are) is that it lowers blood pressure. If you have low blood pressure or are on medications to lower your blood pressure it is possible to cause it to drop too low.
High cholesterol- Fish oil causes an increase in Lipoprotein Levels (bad cholesterol). Because of this it isn't recommended for those with high cholesterol levels.
Diabetics- While there is some research that shows that fish oil is safe for diabetics it does seem to cause a rise in blood sugar levels, at least at first. While it may be safe for them to take it, it should be cautioned.
Children- There are a few different issues that are a problem for giving fish oil supplements to children. First, dosing should be done by weight and getting it right can be hard to do. Overdose can be easy and problematic. Additionally, while research shows that the process for obtaining fish oil eliminates most heavy metals (if not all) there is still a chance that there will be low doses of heavy metals in the fish oil which can be a much larger problem for children then adults.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women- Similarly because there is a risk of some heavy metals occurring in fish oil supplements they should be avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Abnormal heart rhythms- Finally those with abnormal heart rhythms should avoid fish oil because it is unsure as to how it will affect them and could do so dangerously.
Overall, the National Institute of Health has stated that low doses of fish oil supplements are "generally regarded as safe". Nonetheless, if you have any of the above you should probably skip out on the "magic pill". Additionally, whether you are healthy or not it is a good idea to talk with your doctor before beginning any vitamin, dietary supplement, or herbal remedy.
Not All Supplements Are Equal
If you go to the vitamin and supplement aisle of your local store you may feel a little overwhelmed by bottle after bottle of choices. Choosing one can be difficult. There are some who go in and feel that whatever they pick up is going to do what they want. However, supplements aren't something that are regulated by the FDA. This means that you could be choosing something dangerous. So, when looking at all those bottles how do you choose the one that is the best and that is right for you? Follow these tips for choosing a good supplement.
- USP Certified! The USP certification stamp (or US Pharmacopedia stamp) shows that the product and company have been tested by a third party (the US Pharmacopedia themselves). They are stating that the bottle contains what is listed on the label (not all supplements do), it doesn't contain any harmful contaiminents (some supplements do), it will break down in the system and release the supplement to the body, and that the product was manufactured with good practices. Always choose a product that has the USP certified stamp.
- The product should also contain a list of ingredients. If there is a recommended daily allowance it should include a percentage of that daily allowance. With fish oil there isn't, so you should look for an amount that each dose has (pay attention to your dosage size because it could be as many as 2-4 capsules). That way you can make sure you aren't going to overdose.
- Ignore all medical claims made on the bottle. Many of these are just advertisements and not supported by research. One bottle of fish oil supplements isn't going to be better then another because of the claims on the bottle.
- Check the shelf life and make sure you are getting a product that will last all the way through. Try getting one that has at least a year left. Never use supplements past their shelf date.
- While fish oil is available in a capsule and a liquid form it is often easier for most to handle in a capsule form. It causes a lot less issues. Under normal circumstances you should choose a chewable form of the supplement as the best option because it breaks down best in the system.
Be Careful With Your Research
Researching supplements and other "home remedies" is always a good idea before you actually begin taking them. However, it is important to know where your information is coming from. There are many sites out there that look like good places for information. They will tell you all the benefits of a supplement (in this case, fish oil), and they will tell you that there are no side effects or that the only side effect is "a fishy aftertaste". Usually these pages conclude with a link to where you can buy the supplement. Always be a little wary of a page that ends with a link. That means they are making money selling you the supplement. It also means that they are advertising and trying to get you to buy it, rather then dishing out the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Fish oil supplements are good for a lot of people. You just need to take some precautions, have a little knowledge under your belt, and make sure that you don't fall into a group of people who should avoid them. It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor about taking supplements before you do it. This can help you avoid interactions with your medications, with other supplements you are taking, and will let your doctor know what you are doing to help your health. He or she can also help make sure that everything is going well.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.