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Fish Oil Dosage: How Much To Take To Reap Its Benefits, From Experts

May 23, 2022
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Omega-3-laden fish oil supplements have been linked with a slew of health benefits, including supporting vital organs like your brain and heart and helping to maintain a healthy inflammatory response in your body.* What's more, fish oil supplements are considered safe and have a low potential for negative side effects1.

But, if you're interested in taking a fish oil supplement, it's understandable to have questions about dosage. So we asked the experts: how much fish oil should you really be taking? Here's what you need to know.

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How much fish oil to take per day.

There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). While the body can technically produce small amounts of EPA and DHA from ALA, the conversion rate is quite low and highly variable (only about 1 to 21%2 actually gets converted, according to research). This is why it's so important to be intentional about consuming EPA and DHA through food and supplements—but how much, exactly?

When we consume them, omega-3s are "found in the membranes of every cell in our body, provide energy for the body, and help to build signaling molecules,"* says registered dietitian and mbg collective member Maya Feller, M.S., R.D., CDN.

While there is an established daily requirement for carbs, protein, fat, fiber, water, vitamins, minerals, and even ALA (which comes from plant sources), there is no official daily recommended intake3 from the National Academies for EPA or DHA. However, based on decades of scientific research, the robust evidence for these marine omega-3s has led many scientific and nutritional organizations to issue their own guidelines to ensure people are getting their fill of the beneficial fatty acids.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, for example, suggest that people consume 8 ounces (or about two servings) of fish per week—that equates to about 250 to 500 milligrams of combined EPA and DHA per day as a baseline intake level.

On top of that, the American Heart Association recommends upping that intake to 1,000 milligrams (aka 1 gram) or more of EPA plus DHA daily to further promote cardiovascular health.*

As mbg's vice president of scientific affairs Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, explains, "Practically, this potent 1-gram dose of EPA and DHA would mean consuming approximately one serving of fatty fish (mackerel, salmon, anchovies, etc.) each and every day, which not only has cost implications but also some serious heavy metal and contaminant considerations."

If you're not a fan of eating fish that regularly (or you simply find it difficult to consume it multiple times per week), fish oil supplements can help. Just make sure the supplement you're taking provides a meaningful dose of omega-3s, at minimum 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA—the most beneficial dose for cardioprotective benefits will include 1,000 milligrams or more of the fats.*

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Fish oil dosage for triglyceride impact.

In case you're not familiar with them, triglycerides are the main components of body fat (i.e., fat storage known as adipose tissue). Having healthy levels of triglycerides circulating in your blood, for example measured in a lipid panel by your doctor, can directly and positively affect cardiovascular health outcomes, explains health coach and registered dietitian Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN.

And as it turns out, fish oil can be used to help regulate triglyceride levels in your body, according to a 2019 science advisory issued by the American Heart Association (AHA), and this beneficial effect is especially true at the higher daily intakes (i.e., those 1-gram-plus doses) of EPA and DHA.*

Fish oil dosage for healthy cholesterol levels.

According to a scientific review from the Journal of Clinical Medicine Research, fish and fish oil intake may also help modulate HDL (good) cholesterol levels4.*

When it comes to healthy cholesterol levels, women should strive for total cholesterol between 125 and 200 mg/dL, with HDL cholesterol at 50 mg/dL or higher and LDL (bad) cholesterol below 100 mg/dL. Men should aim for the same total and LDL cholesterol levels, but healthy HDL levels can be 40 mg/dL or higher. 

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Fish oil dosage in pregnancy.

Extra attention is needed for omega-3s during pregnancy5, and Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology states that "the richest sources of these omega-3 fatty acids are marine sources, such as seafood and fish oil supplements."

This, Cording explains, "is because DHA is really important for fetal health."* According to a 2019 Nutrients review, DHA in particular is vital for healthy brain and nervous system development6 in babies.*

In a 2008 scientific article7, Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology notes that the recommended intake of omega-3s is higher than it would be for a non-pregnant person, and adds that: "For pregnant women to obtain adequate omega-3 fatty acids, a variety of sources should be consumed: vegetable oils, two low-mercury fish servings a week, and supplements (fish oil or algae-based docosahexaenoic acid)."

Ferira adds that "from the WHO and European perinatal health associations8 to the esteemed American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and research dating back 20-plus years9, clinical consensus aligns at a minimum of 200 to 300 milligrams of omega-3 DHA intake daily during pregnancy and lactation."

Fish oil dosage in older adults.

While research does not clearly indicate that older adults need more or less fish or fish oil than other adults, older age is certainly associated with a higher cumulative (lifetime) burden of things like oxidative stress, inflammatory pathways, and heart health considerations.

For this physiological reason, an intentional daily intake of marine omega-3s may be useful for supporting lipid health and cardiac function, and a high-quality fish oil supplement can certainly prove useful in that daily regimen.*

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How much fish oil is too much?

In general, you're unlikely to have too much fish oil, says Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D., a clinical biochemist and founder of the Institute for Functional Medicine. For most people, the father of functional medicine shares that "there are no serious adverse effects from taking a lot of fish oil," he says, though some may experience gastrointestinal upset.

But, he adds, people who have personalized bleeding considerations or take blood-thinning medications should talk to their health care provider about dosage before adding a very-high-dose omega-3 supplement to their daily routine. This is because omega-3s have an effect on platelet activity10, which can ultimately affect those with specific bleeding health concerns if they are getting exceedingly high doses of omega-3s—i.e., over 10 grams (or 10,000 milligrams!) per day.

To put this "risky" intake level in perspective, however, 10 grams of EPA and DHA would be like taking 10 to 20 times the typical daily dose of a fish oil supplement.

As Ferira previously explained in this fish oil myth-busting article, thankfully the average person needn't worry about blood thinning when it comes to normal (and useful) levels of fish oil intake. "The fact is, a quick look at the body of epidemiologic and clinical trial research11 over the past 30 years demonstrates, from multiple systematic reviews and meta-analyses, that there is, in fact, no increased risk for bleeding when people consume a total daily amount of EPA + DHA as low as 500 milligrams and as high as 10 grams (10,000 milligrams!)," she says regarding omega-3 intake and supplements.

Ferira adds, "Even if you wanted to be incredibly conservative and apply a random safety factor of 2 and make that daily max 5 grams (5,000 milligrams) of EPA plus DHA, those are not omega-3 levels that supplements provide. Period."

The takeaway.

In general, most adults would benefit from biweekly fish consumption. To complement a healthy diet of fish (or replace it if your vegan or vegetarian lifestyle excludes fish), a high-quality fish oil supplement delivering at least 500 milligrams of EPA plus DHA would be a helpful and healthful supplement strategy for most adults.

A fish oil supplement delivering 1-gram-plus of EPA and DHA appears to offer incremental benefits on the heart-health front.* Special attention to marine omega-3 intake should be top of mind for those with heart-health considerations, as well as for those who are pregnant and breastfeeding.

For a premium, high-potency fish oil supplement that delivers 1.5 grams of sustainably sourced EPA + DHA in each serving (with no fishy aftertaste), mbg's omega-3 potency+ is a great way to reap all the health benefits that come with achieving and maintaining sufficient levels of omega-3s.* And for more supplement recommendations, check out our omega-3 roundup.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.