Nearly 19 million U.S. adults take fish oil supplements each day, hoping to increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Most people have not asked their pharmacists or health care providers about the supplements and have just added them to their daily regimen in hopes of improving their health.
This concerns Jalal Mataria of Tablets Pharmacy. “Many people believe that fish oil supplements will improve health without fully understanding the research that has been done about omega-3 fatty acids. In truth, the results are a little more complicated.”
When patients are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, studies show that fish oil supplements can help reduce pain by reducing inflammation. These supplements can also lessen morning stiffness and relieve joint tenderness. The improvement is usually very modest, but for patients with stomach irritation, fish oil can reduce the need for medications that relieve inflammation.
High cholesterol and high triglycerides can also be improved with fish oil supplements, but these results are mixed. While evidence shows omega-3 fatty acids “significantly reduce” triglyceride levels, the effect of omega-3s on cholesterol is still unresolved. Omega-3 fatty acids do improve the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – the “bad” cholesterol, but they also increase the levels of low-density lipoproteins – the “good” cholesterol. When working to reduce triglycerides of 500 mg/dl or more, requesting prescription strength fish oil can help lower numbers by 30-50%.
Omega-3 fatty acids have a positive effect on high blood pressure, especially for those with moderate to severe hypertension. These supplements have a lesser impact on those with mildly elevated blood pressure.
Because of omega-3’s inflammation-relieving properties and their ability to reduce blood clotting, they can also benefit a patient’s vascular system. Preventing inflammation and clotting in a patient’s veins and arteries helps prevent irregular heartbeats, strokes, amputations caused by vascular disease, and heart disease. However, research indicates that patients trying to prevent or relieve heart disease specifically would be better served by eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids at least twice a week, as taking fish oil supplements seems to have little benefits to heart health. Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids include canned tuna, salmon, sardines, lake trout, cod, herring and Atlantic mackerel.
There are negatives to taking fish oil; all patients should clear new supplements with their primary care doctor. If a patient is immunocompromised or allergic to seafood, fish oil may be unsafe. Taking fish oil along with aspirin or any other anticoagulant or anti platelet drugs such as warfarin can increase the risk of bleeding. Combining fish oil with hypertension medications may lower blood pressure too much. Fish oil should not be taken along with other herbal products such as garlic pills, ginger, ginkgo biloba, willow bark, horse chestnut, danshen or dong guai.
Patients should seek immediate medical attention if they experience:
- Skin rash, itching or hives
- Swelling of the tongue, lips or face
- Shortness of breath or breathing problems
- Unusual bruising or bleeding
- Mood swings
When taking fish oil, patients may also experience:
- Bad breath or “fishy” breath
- Belching or gassiness
- Diarrhea, stomach upset or nausea
- Weight gain
Jalal says, “Fish oil can benefit patients but, as with all vitamins, herbs and supplements, patients should talk to their trusted pharmacist make a good decision about any potential interactions.”
Tablets Pharmacy is located at 9603 S Pulaski Road in Evergreen Park. The full-service pharmacy provides free delivery of prescription and over-the-counter prescriptions and medical products.