Should I Take a Fish Oil Supplement?

piece of fresh salmon and fish oil capsules on a table

Omega-3 fats are healthy fats with many benefits. There are three types of omega-3 fats: EPA, DHA and ALA. Omega-3 fats are considered essential as our bodies can’t make them on their own. One of the best sources of omega-3 fats is fatty fish like salmon, trout and mackerel. But some people do not eat fish and may benefit from an omega-3 or fish oil supplement. 

What are fish oil supplements?

Fish oil supplements are made of omega-3 fats taken from fish such as salmon, tuna, anchovies and sardines. They are made into pills or liquid supplements. These are called “omega-3 supplements” or “fish oil supplements.” They come in different doses ranging from 250 mg to 2000 mg, for example. 

Should I take a fish oil supplement?

It depends. It is best to get omega-3 fats from food. Eating fish and seafood regularly as part of a balanced diet is recommended to help prevent heart disease.

If you are a vegetarian, vegan or simply don’t like the taste of fish, you may benefit from an omega-3 supplement. If you have high triglycerides, you may also benefit from an omega-3 supplement. Some supplements are made from algae oil and some from fish oil. The quality and amount of omega-3 fats in these supplements can vary widely. Look for supplements that have a Natural Product Number (NPN). The NPN ensures that the product has met the standards for quality, safety and efficacy set by Health Canada for Natural Health Products. The quality requirements include testing for chemical impurities such as heavy metals, pesticides and known contaminants. A dietitian can help you choose the right supplement for you.
If you are on medication and are thinking of using a fish oil supplement, talk to your health care provider.

Can I take fish oil supplements if I am pregnant?

An omega-3 fat called DHA is essential for your baby’s brain and eyesight development. DHA is found in fish and fish oil supplements. If you are pregnant, eating two 75 gram servings of fatty fish each week is the best way to get DHA. Read more about which fish to choose and which may have higher mercury here.
If you do not eat fish, you can safely take fish oil supplements while you are pregnant. The exact dose that you need is not yet known. Check with your dietitian or health care provider for advice. For pregnant women who already eat fish twice a week, there is not enough research to show whether taking fish oil supplements will have any extra benefits for your baby.

How should I choose a fish oil supplement?

Make sure you buy a supplement that has been purified. That means it has been tested and meets government standards to be low in mercury and PCBs. Look for one with a Natural Product Number (NPN) on the product label. The NPN will only be found on supplements that have been tested for safety and quality. Ask your pharmacist about fish oil supplements that have an NPN.  

What about cod or other fish liver oil?

Cod or fish liver oil supplements are not recommended, especially when pregnant. Liver oil supplements may contain too much vitamin A which can be dangerous.

Are there any alternatives to fish oil supplements?

If you are allergic to fish or are vegetarian or vegan, there are other ways to get enough omega-3 fat in your diet. You can include plant sources of omega-3 in your diet like flaxseed, walnuts or seaweed. You can also try supplements made from algal oil, which is a vegetarian source of DHA made from sea algae. Algal oil is also added to some foods including some yogurts and fortified plant-based beverages. Omega-3 enriched eggs and milk are also options. Read more about the dietary sources of omega-3 fats here.

How can a dietitian help?

A dietitian can make sure you are getting enough essential omega-3 fats in your diet. They can advise you on which fish to choose and how much to eat. If you would like to try a supplement, a dietitian can help choose one that is right for you. If you are pregnant, a dietitian can work with you to ensure you are getting enough omega-3 to support your baby’s development. Connect with a dietitian today!

Bottom line

It is best to get omega-3 fats from food if possible. Fish oil supplements can be a good option for people who do not eat fish.  If you have certain health problems, are taking medication, are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your dietitian or health care provider to learn exactly which dose may be right for you. 

You may also be interested in:

Benefits of Omega-3 Fats and Where to Find Them
Fish and Mercury
Top 5 Reasons to See a Dietitian

This article was written and reviewed by dietitians from Dietitians of Canada. The advice in this article is intended as general information and should not replace advice given by your dietitian or healthcare provider.

Last Update – January 14, 2023

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