As consumers, we are familiar with side effects. We hear them at the end of TV ads, always spoken in monotone at breakneck speed. We see them wrapped around the sides of pill bottles: tiny text where the manufacturers tried to fit as much into as few words as possible. You have to wonder if they’re telling you everything. It’s nice, after all, to know what you are putting into your body before it goes in. It’s nice to know whether or not you should worry about what you take. So, along those lines, it’s nice to have an article that explains everything that you should know about fish oil side effects, and why, with the proper precautions, these side effects are not a cause for concern.
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are blood thinners. Blood clots by using platelet cells, which are programmed to lump together at the site of a wound. Fish oil can “thin” the blood by making the platelets less sticky, and that makes it harder for the blood to clot when it needs to. The minimal anti-clotting effect of fish oil is not dangerous by itself, but when combined with other drugs that have similar effects, it can become a problem. That’s why folks who take blood thinning (anticoagulant) medication like aspirin, Warfarin/Coumadin, or heparin should consult a physician (and read up on dosage guidelines) before taking fish oil supplements.
Fish oil repeat, aka “fish burps,” is an annoying fish oil side effect that can be prevented easily. First of all, stick to high quality, highly purified supplements; this will ensure the fish oil doesn’t contain any impurities that may cause digestive disturbances. Secondly, be sure to take your supplement before meals so that digestive enzymes can ensure more complete absorption. Finally, try buying enteric-coated supplements. Enteric coatings are designed to be stable in the very acidic stomach, and to dissolve in the less acidic part that comes next. In this way, they prevent the capsules from breaking open until they reach the small intestine (the word “enteric” means “intestinal”). This takes the burp-generating stomach out of the picture.
Another digestion-related side effect of fish oil is mild gastrointestinal discomfort, also known as a stomachache, and sometimes diarrhea. Following the advice about avoiding fish burps should help you to avoid these side effects as well.
Lastly, as with everything else that we put in our bodies, fish oil consumers should be careful of allergic reactions. This is not as concerning as you might think, however. People who have related allergies typically only have them to fish proteins, and high quality supplements (the ones that you should be buying) should not contain fish proteins.
Fish oil side effects exist, but they are rarely anything to write home about, especially if you follow the advice given above. Many of us take highly-purified fish oil supplements because we want our omega-3s without the toxins that come from eating barrels of fish. Of course we don’t want to trade those toxins for a bunch of nasty side effects. Luckily, with high-quality fish oil, we don’t have to!