Close up of fish oil gel capsules.

No doubt you have heard about the importance of omega-3. You probably know you should be taking fish oil supplements, but most people don’t know what exactly fish oil does or why they should take it.

More importantly, are there any risks or side effects when taking fish oil? I hope this article will clear up everything for you.

What Are Fish Oil Supplements?

EFAs (essential fatty acids) are long chain, polyunsaturated fatty acids. Despite their essential nature, your body is unable to produce them in house. Therefore we need to get them from the foods we eat every day.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid). There is also omega-9 but it’s not essential, so therefore, we only really need to worry about the first two.

Essential fatty acids have a number of roles within the body including:

  • Gives us healthy hair
  • Promoting healthy cell membrane formation
  • Take care of thyroid and adrenal gland activity
  • They help with production of many hormones
  • Are responsible for brain development
  • Breaking down cholesterol

When these are consumed, they’re broken down into EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA and DHA are responsible for a number of bodily functions and offer many physical and mental health benefits.

Where Does Fish Oil Come From?

Fish oil is sourced from either deep water farmed or wild caught, cold water, oily fish including:

  • Albacore Tuna
  • Anchovies
  • Bluefish
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Sturgeon
  • Trout

The Dangers of Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency

Perhaps you’re wondering what happens if we don’t get enough of these essential nutrients? Believe it or not, if you’re deficient in omega-3 and omega-6, it can lead to you losing your hair, losing vision, and even change your mental state.

A significant amount of research has been done in the area of omega-3. Findings have shown that correct levels of EPA and DHA in the body can have positive effects on a number or chronic diseases and conditions such as cancercardiovascular diseaseADHD, and depression.

In fact, most recently the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report announcing a qualified health claim recommending omega 3s, most specifically EPA and DHA, for reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

Are There Any Fish Oil Risks and Side Effects?

In general, when taken correctly there are very few risks involved with taking fish oil supplements. In fact, there has been significant research into the use of fish oil supplements as an alternative to traditional anti-inflammatory drugs because they pose less risk to the user.

On occasion, there are some unpleasant, yet mild, side effects experienced when using fish oil supplements including:

  • A fishy taste in your mouth.
  • Fishy breath.
  • Stomach upset.
  • Loose stools.
  • Nausea.

If the fishy taste really bothers you, yet you still want to the benefits of a supplement, try freezing the capsules. It won’t make them any harder to swallow since you take them whole, but the taste will decrease significantly. They won’t melt and release their pungent fluid until further down your digestive tract.

Allergic Reactions

Of course, like anything you are trying for the first time, there is always a risk of allergic reaction. This is why it is advised that you should never use fish oil supplements if you have any form of fish or seafood allergy as well as an allergy to soy beans. You should also contact a doctor immediately if you experience any of the following side effects after using fish oils:

  • Cough
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Hives, itching, or skin rash
  • Puffiness or swelling of the eyelids or around the eyes, face, lips, or tongue
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness

Fish Oil Interactions

Every time I recommend a health product or dietary supplement, I make sure to mention that if you have an ongoing illness or take prescription medicines, check with your doctor before starting. Fish oil is no exception.

Fish oil can interact with blood thinning medicines such as warfarin. If you have a clotting disorder, you shouldn’t take a fish oil supplement unless directed by your physician. It can thin the blood and increase bleeding (source)

Safe Dosage

Most importantly, it is crucial that you never exceed the dose of fish oil supplements stated in the directions of use. There is a tendency amongst the fitness community to up the dosage in order to help you achieve weight loss and fitness goals faster. This should never be done without the direction of a medical professional.

Final Thoughts on Fish Oil Risks and Side Effects

If taken correctly, fish oil supplements have very few risks and side effect. Personally, I believe the benefits far outweigh the risks - unless you have an allergy or drug interaction.

Here's an interesting infographic from

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About The Author

Helen Sanders's picture

Helen Sanders is chief editor at Established in 2012, Health Ambition has grown rapidly in recent years. Our goal is to provide easy-to-understand health and nutrition advice that makes a real impact. We pride ourselves on making sure our actionable advice can be followed by regular people with busy lives. Follow on Facebook:

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