Is It Possible To Get Too Many Omega-3 Fatty Acids? Experts Weigh In
When it comes to healthy fats, omega-3s are the talk of the town, so we're sure you've heard about the support they provide to the heart, brain, and more by now.* But the recommended amounts of omega-3 fatty acids can be complicated (especially when it comes to EPA and DHA), and the maximum levels aren't as clear as other nutrients. So, what's the perfect amount of omega-3s, exactly—and how do we know if we've reached our limit?
What's the daily goal for omega-3s?
While omega-3s provide so many incredible benefits for our whole-body health, suggestions for how much omega-3 each person should be getting are a little confusing.*
ALA daily recommendations.
When it comes to ALA, the omega-3 found in plants (think walnuts and seeds from flax, hemp, chia, etc.), the recommendations are crystal clear: According to the National Academies' Food and Nutrition Board, women should be getting at least 1,100 milligrams of ALA per day, while men should be getting a daily 1,600 milligrams. However, there's no official recommendation from the National Academies (yet) for EPA, DHA, or combined omega-3 fatty acids.
Getting enough EPA & DHA.
While there aren't any official recommendations for daily intake of total omega-3s, many health organizations certainly provide helpful guidelines for the amount of EPA and DHA we should be getting on a daily basis. As the name suggests, these marine omega-3s EPA and DHA are found from marine sources, such as seafood (especially fatty fish), crustaceans (krill), and algae.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming two servings (approximately 8 ounces) of fish per week to support heart health, which equates to about 250 to 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA per day.* Most American diets are seriously missing out on these important marine omega-3s—so much so that only 10% of adults in the U.S.1 are reaching 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA per day.
In addition to recommending two servings of oily, higher fat fish per week, our country's preeminent heart-health organization, the American Heart Association3, indicates that 1,000 milligrams (i.e., 1 gram) or more of EPA plus DHA a day delivers significant cardioprotective benefits4.* Meanwhile, the FDA considers products containing 800 milligrams or more of EPA and DHA per serving to help reduce the risk for hypertension and coronary heart disease5.†
While a small amount of consumed ALA (i.e., the plant-derived omega-3) can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body (i.e., only 1 to 12%6), research has proved that process to be highly variable and inefficient. Thus, the most effective way to up your EPA and DHA levels is to consume foods and supplements that contain these dynamic omega-3 fatty acids.
Is it possible to have too much omega-3?
It's important to first point out there's no upper limit for the amount of omega-3s you consume, so keep packing your meals with these healthy fatty acids!
mbg's own director of scientific affairs, Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, puts it this way: "Just like there aren't 'upper limits' for carbs or protein, omega-3s are a healthy fat for which assigning a ceiling for the general population doesn't make good sense. Per the science, there is no reason to tiptoe around omega-3 fats, just like you wouldn't tiptoe around avocados or olive oil. These are healthy fats that deserve a prominent place in every dietary pattern."
As far as supplements go, there is technically an upper ceiling for how much EPA and DHA we should get—but it's much, much higher than you'd think (and not a concern at all at clinically efficacious doses).
Clinical research has revealed that it's safe to take up to 10 grams (10,000 milligrams) of EPA and DHA a day—that's over 20 times the recommended minimum intake (i.e., two servings of fish per week equals approximately 500 milligrams of EPA plus DHA daily). For context, most fish oil supplements offer 250 to 1,800 milligrams of EPA and DHA per daily serving, meaning you'd have to take 10 to 40 servings a day to reach potentially dangerous levels (i.e., a silly high amount).
Speaking of the alleged health concerns surrounding omega-3s, let's address the concern that taking a fish oil supplement may result in blood thinning and reduce blood clotting. While evidence shows that omega-3s naturally have a positive biological effect on platelets, blood thinning is not a concern at the dosage that omega-3 supplements provide—or even the outrageously high (yet completely safe) intake of 10 grams per day, for that matter.
Eager to address this fish oil folklore, Ferira explains that the past 30 years of epidemiologic and clinical trial research demonstrates, from multiple systematic reviews and meta-analyses, that there's no increased risk for bleeding.
"Even if you wanted to be incredibly conservative and apply a random safety factor of two, and make that daily max 5 grams (5,000 milligrams) of EPA plus DHA, those are not omega-3 levels that supplements provide. Period," Ferira notes.
That being said, anyone with personalized bleeding considerations and/or on blood-thinning medication should talk to their health care provider before adding an omega-3 supplement to their daily routine (out of an abundance of caution).
There is no limitation on how many omega-3s you consume and, despite the blood-thinning rumors (that are misaligned with actual science), consuming less than 10 grams of combined EPA and DHA daily is safe. If you want an optimally dosed, bioavailable, traceable, and sustainably sourced omega-3 supplement with a daily serving of 1.5 grams of EPA plus DHA, mindbodygreen's omega-3 potency+ is a fantastic solution for upping your omega-3 intake levels and supporting your heart, brain, and whole-body health in a safe, effective way.*
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.
Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.