Fish Oils - A Serious Side Effect

Fish oils, EPA and DHA, are the highlight of nutrition research. More than three scientific studies came out that support their use to improve health and combat disease. With this hype and the abundance of over-the-counter fish oil supplements, they are flying into people's shopping carts fast. One must wonder though, is it possible to take in too much fish oils?

Health Benefits of Omega-3s

Researchers at the University of Prince Edward Island gave EPA supplements to rats and reported in the Journal of Neurochemistry improved memory and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In another study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers gave omega-3 supplements to individuals at risk of developing psychotic disorders. They saw less progression towards the disease with omega-3 supplements and reported their safety and efficacy. A third study in Diabetic Medicine concluded that omega-3 fatty acids improved kidney health in patients with diabetes.

Strong evidence supports the role of EPA and DHA in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, lowering blood pressure, reducing triglyceride levels, and improving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Research is piling up on their role in improved memory and cognition, as well as preventing dementia, macular degeneration, depression, asthma, and autoimmune disease.

With the evidence mounting in favor of omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil supplements, no wonder they are one of the most popular nutritional supplements on the market.

However, studies like these, combined with a lack of a Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for omega-3 fatty acids, leave consumers at risk of an overdose.

How Much Fish Oil is Too Much

The American Heart Association recommends people without documented heart disease to eat six ounces of fatty fish a week, which would provide 300 to 500 mg of EPA and DHA a day. With medical supervision, they recommend one gram of EPA and DHA for people with documented heart disease and two to four grams for people who need to lower their triglyceride levels. A report published in the Journal of Nutrition recommends 250 to 500 mg EPA and DHA a day.

Many are those who pop a self-prescribed dose of these pills without medical advice or supervision.

While some side effects of fish oil supplements cause discomfort, such as upset stomach or heartburn, a rare--but serious--risk is excessive bleeding. The FDA recognizes three grams of EPA and DHA a day as safe, and a daily intake higher than that places a person at danger of excessive bleeding and incidence of hemorrhagic stroke.

A Healthy Diet Matters

Are omega-3 fatty acids the missing piece in most people’s diets? Maybe. But don’t go about your regular eating habits counting on fish oil supplements to keep your heart strong and healthy. A study in July’s 2009 issue of Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association found that if coupled with a high fat diet, omega-3 fatty acids lost their magic.

When choosing a fish oil supplement, consult with your doctor and aim for 250 to 500 mg of EPA and DHA a day. Eat a balanced diet, low in saturated and trans fats, high in fruits and vegetables, and low in sodium and added sugars. And eat some fish!

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