Side Affects From Fish Oil Supplements May Be Avoidable


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The possible side affects from fish oil supplements are relatively minor when compared to the health benefits. Questions about fish oil side affects may arise from concerns over mercury contamination. While evaluations by consumer advocate groups have shown low levels of contaminants in some supplements, the conclusion was that they are basically safe.

The USDA does not have a list of side affects from fish oil supplements. Fish and fish oil supplements are the best known sources of omega-3 fatty acids. No upper limit for omega-3 fatty acid consumption has been established. Some vitamins and minerals can be toxic when consumed in high quantities on a daily basis. Vitamin A, D, E, K, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and copper are examples of nutrients that have established upper safety limits for human consumption.

Instead of a recommended daily intake, the USDA has established an “acceptable" dietary intake for omega-3s. This is an amount that according to their research prevents deficiency symptoms. The acceptable dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids is 1.6 grams or 1600mg for men and 1.1 grams or 1100mg for women. Although more may be recommended by health care professionals for certain conditions, such as arthritis and heart disease.

The best dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids is fish. The common side affects from fish oil supplements also accompany fish consumption. It may be difficult to reach the acceptable intake level, even by eating fish everyday. And, because of mercury contamination and other pollutants in our fish, the Environmental Defense Network advises that certain types of fish should be avoided, some types should only be eaten once or twice a month and some types are safe to eat once a week.

Sablefish is one that is safe to eat at least once a week. 100 grams of sablefish contains 1.49g or 1490 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. This is a fish with very high omega 3 content per serving. Most fish do not contain this much. Canned skipjack tuna, for example, provides only 0.256g or 256mg of omega-3 fatty acids and carries consumption advisories for children due to mercury content. Other types of tuna have consumption advisories for adults, as well, because of mercury contamination.

On the other hand, the best fish oil supplements are purified and molecularly distilled to remove impurities and contaminants, like mercury. Distilled and encapsulated forms may also prevent any fish oil side affects. Environmental Defense states that fish oil supplements are an acceptable choice for ecologically concerned consumers and that most appear to be safe.

The best supplements contain 1000mg of fish oil per capsule, which provides 440mg of omega-3 fatty acids. The recommended dosage is one or two capsules per day for adults. For children, bodyweight is the determining factor for dosage.

The most commonly reported side affects from fish oil supplements include burping or a fishy aftertaste. Three suggestions may prevent these minor, but annoying fish oil side affects. First, taking the fish oil supplement with a meal may prevent the fishy aftertaste. Burping after a meal is caused by swallowing air and is perfectly natural. Excessive burping can be avoided by eating slowly.

Second, some people have found that freezing their capsules prevents the common fish oil side affects. This, of course, is not an alternative for those people who prefer to take the liquid supplement form. Some manufacturers advise that the product should be kept from freezing, follow the label directions.

Third, simply switching from a liquid supplement to a capsule may reduce or prevent burping and fishy aftertaste. Capsules will be more slowly absorbed by the system and will not start to break down until they reach the stomach. Thus, the fishy aftertaste may not be experienced.

Other side affects from fish oil supplements that have been reported by some people include a laxative effect, indigestion and heartburn. Indigestion and heartburn can be avoided by taking the supplement with a meal. Most vitamin supplements will cause indigestion when they are not taken with a meal. Some, like the B-complex may even cause vomiting, if they are not taken with food. You can not rely entirely on your supplements to provide adequate nutrition. A balanced diet is a necessity.

Although, there is no known upper limit for omega-3 consumption, some fish oil supplements contain the vitamins A, D & E. Excess consumption of vitamin A or the possible serious side affects from fish oil supplements containing vitamin A include liver problems. Vitamin A supplements are only recommended for those people who are at risk for vitamin A deficiency. Avoiding the cod liver oil and other fish liver oils is safest. Fish oils derived from the flesh of the fish do not typically contain vitamin A.

Excess vitamin D consumption can cause elevated levels of calcium in the blood stream. Since milk is fortified with vitamin D, most daily vitamin supplements contain vitamin D and there are many other sources, including the sun, the safest choice is fish oil that does not contain vitamin D. It is also wise to avoid excessive consumption of vitamin E supplements, although foods containing vitamin E are not believed to pose any health risks.

The bottom line is that common side affects from fish oil supplements obtained from the flesh of fatty fish are very minor and avoidable.

Patsy Hamilton was a health care professional for over twenty years before becoming a freelance writer. Currently she is writing a series of articles about omega-3 fatty acids. Read more at

To learn more about selecting a supplement, please visit the Fish Oil Guide .


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