Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Omega-3?
The reason people need to take fish oil is for its content of beneficial omega-3 essential fatty acids. (The "3" in omega-3 refers to the placement of a double bond between carbon atoms in the fatty acid molecule.) These are the fatty acids that the body needs to make the hormones that regulate inflammation.
The other major kind of essential fatty acids is the omega-6 fatty acids. These are the fatty acids that the body uses to make pro-inflammatory hormones that activate the immune system, help the body get rid of damaged or dead tissue, and stop bleeding. Omega-6 essential fatty acids are just as necessary as omega-3 essential fatty acids, but we get a lot more omega-6 than omega-3 in a normal diet.
Our bodies work best when the ratio of omega-6 essential fatty acids to omega-3 essential fatty acids in the diet is about 2 to 1. In most diets it's about 20 to 1. Very, very few people get too much omega-3 in their diets, but it has been known to happen.
If you eat a very low-fat diet and also take 15 grams of fish oil a day, or more, then it is possible for your diet to get out of balance.
It's very easy to your diet back in balance. Just be sure to eat one or two servings of meat, eggs, or butter every week, or, if you are a vegetarian, use 1-2 tablespoons of corn oil or soybean oil a couple times a week. This way you won't upset the balance of the two different kinds of essential fatty acids.
How Much Fish Oil Is Enough?
Most of us have the problem of getting enough omega-3's, and fish oil is the most concentrated source known. Dr. Barry Sears, the originator of the Zone Diet and also a respected researcher in fatty acid chemistry, recommends these levels of fish oil supplementation for specific conditions:
- If you are in good health and you are taking fish oil to stay healthy, you need about 1 gram of DHA and EPA every day. You can get this from taking about three 1,000 mg capsules of fish oil every day.
- If you are taking fish oil to support healthy levels of cholesterol or triglycerides, you need about 2.5 grams of DHA and EPA every day. To get this amount of essential fatty acids, you need to take about eight 1,000 mg capsules every day.
- If you are taking fish oil to support healthy weight loss, or to prevent excessive weight loss after a long illness, you also need about 2.5 grams of DHA and EPA every day. That's eight 1,000 mg capsules every day.
- If you are taking fish oil to support brain wellness, then the recommended fish oil dosage is 10 up 15 grams of DHA and EPA every day. Don't try to do this by taking 30 to 45 fish oil capsules. Use only the very highest grade, distilled fish oil products, up to 5 tablespoons a day, with meals, and no more than two tablespoons at a time.
If a product gives you fishy burps or runny bowels, ask for a refund.
You should never take a fish oil product that tastes bad. If a product gives you fishy burps or runny bowels, ask for a refund.
The best, modern fish oils are distilled and checked for purity. They will have no taste at all (unless the capsules are chocolate or fruit-flavored) and it will only take few seconds a day to get all the essential fatty acids you need for good health.
- Ramsden CE, Hibbeln JR, Majchrzak SF, Davis JM. n-6 fatty acid-specific and mixed polyunsaturate dietary interventions have different effects on CHD risk: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J Nutr. 2010 Dec;104(11):1586-600.