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Essential Fatty Acids
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

What is Essential Fatty Acids?

Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, one of the two main classes of essential fatty acids. ( Omega-6 fatty acids are the other main type.) Essential fatty acids are special fats that the body needs for optimum health.

Interest in the potential therapeutic benefits of omega-3 fatty acids began when studies of the Inuit (Eskimo) people found that, although their diets contain an enormous amount of fat from fish, seals, and whales, they seldom suffer heart attacks. This is presumably because those sources of fat are very high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Subsequent investigation found that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil have various effects that tend to reduce risk of heart disease and strokes. However, research into whether use of fish oil actually prevents these diseases,...

Consumption of fish oil alters the body’s production of certain substances in the class of chemicals called prostaglandins. Some prostaglandins increase inflammation while others decrease it. The prostaglandins whose production is enhanced by fish oil fall into the anti-inflammatory category. Based on this, fish oil has been tried as a treatment for early stages of rheumatoid arthritis , with positive results. It is thought to significantly reduce symptoms without causing side effects and may magnify the benefits of standard arthritis drugs. 1 However, while some standard medications can slow the progression of the disease, there is no evidence that fish oil can do this. Much weaker evidence hints that fish oil might be helpful for the related disease ankylosing...

Safety Issues

Fish oil appears to be generally safe. The most common problem is fishy burps. However, there are some safety concerns to consider.

For example, it has been suggested that some fish oil products contain excessive levels of toxic substances such as organochlorines and PCBs. 2 If possible, try to purchase fish oil products certified not to contain significant levels of these contaminants. Note:Various types of fish contain mercury, but this has not been a problem with fish oil supplements, according to reports on

Fish oil has a mild blood-thinning effect; 3 in one case report, it increased the effect of the blood-thinning medication warfarin (Coumadin). 4 Fish oil does not seem to cause bleeding problems when it is taken by itself 5 or...