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Can Fish Oil Supplements Be Harmful?

Fish oil is a dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids. Your body needs omega-3 fatty acids for many functions, from muscle activity to cell growth.  Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from food. They can’t be manufactured in the body. Fish oil contains two omega-3s called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Dietary sources of DHA and EPA are fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and trout, and shellfish, such as mussels, oysters and crabs. Some nuts, seeds and vegetable oils contain another omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).  Fish oil supplements come in liquid, capsule and pill form.  People take fish oil for its anti-inflammatory effects.

Research on the use of fish oil for specific conditions shows:


  • Heart disease. While research shows that people who eat dietary sources of fish oil at least twice a week have a lower risk of dying of heart disease, taking fish oil supplements seems to have little to no benefits to heart health.


  • High blood pressure. Multiple studies report modest reductions in blood pressure in people who take fish oil supplements. There’s some evidence that the beneficial effects of fish oil might be greater for people with moderate to severe high blood pressure than for those with mild blood pressure elevation.


  • High triglycerides and cholesterol. There’s strong evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can significantly reduce blood triglyceride levels. There also appears to be a slight improvement in high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol, although an increase in levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol also was observed.


  • Rheumatoid arthritis. Studies suggest fish oil supplements might help reduce pain, improve morning stiffness and relieve joint tenderness in people with rheumatoid arthritis. While relief is often modest, it might be enough to reduce the need for anti-inflammatory medications.


BUT…a recent study was released in the past week that looked at over 500,000 people taking fish oil supplements and the results were quite surprising.  It seems that for those people with no previous heart disease, the use of fish oil supplements actually increased their risk of developing heart disease and having strokes.  For those people with a history of heart issues, the fish oils were protective.

So, based on the very large study just published, it would appear that fish oil supplements are not indicated for everyone: If you have no history of heart disease as well as a clean family history of heart disease, perhaps you should take a pass on taking fish oil as a supplement.  More studies are needed!

And from the soundtrack of a really fun movie called “Big Fish” with Albert Finney and Jessica Lange, here is the Vogue’s “Five O’Clock World”.

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