Are Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements Safe to Take?

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Omega-3 fatty acid supplements are widely available at many grocery stores and pharmacies, and have many health benefits –- including reducing inflammation and lowering your triglyceride levels. Just because they are readily available, it does not that mean that they are safe for everyone to take. As with any other type of supplement or medication, you should talk to your healthcare provider before adding omega-3 supplements to your lipid-lowering regimen.

You should especially talk to your healthcare provider if you have one of the following conditions:

You have a fish allergy.

Some types of omega-3 fatty acids - such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) - are derived from fish. Therefore, you should be very cautious of taking certain omega-3 fatty acid supplements, like fish oil, if you have experienced an allergy to shellfish or any other type of fish. Taking fish-derived omega-3 fatty acid products may cause you to experience an allergic reaction, ranging from anaphylaxis to developing a rash. Your healthcare provider may have other options to help you lower your triglycerides if you have one of these allergies.

You have an active bleed or have a condition that prevents you from clotting normally.

Omega-3 fatty acids –- especially in doses greater than 3 grams per day -– can reduce your blood's ability to clot, making it easier for you to bleed.

Couple this with a medical condition that reduces clotting or results in an active bleed -- whether due to an accident, intracranial bleeding, or stomach ulcer –- and this could cause further complications.

You have diabetes.

Some studies have noted that omega-3 fatty acid supplements –- especially in higher doses -– could slightly increase your blood sugar levels.

However, it did not appear to affect long-term control of glucose levels, since hemoglobin A1C levels in these studies were not significantly impacted. Other studies did not see an association between blood glucose levels and omega-3 supplements. Because these studies are limited and conflicting, you should discuss taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements with your healthcare provider first. He or she will carefully monitor you while you are taking these products, and adjust your medication doses, if needed.

You are taking other medications.

Not all medications interact with omega-3 fatty acid supplements, but it’s​ a good idea to disclose to your healthcare provider that you take supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, as well as any other medications or supplements you may be taking. Blood thinners, such as Coumadin (warfarin), aspirin, antiplatelet medications (such as Plavix), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (including Advil, Motrin, Aleve) may further increase your likelihood to bleed if you are taking these supplements.

You have low blood pressure.

If you are already taking medications to lower your blood pressure, omega-3 fatty acid-containing products can add to this, thus lowering your blood pressure even more. Although this appears at higher doses and the blood pressure-lowering effects have been modest in these studies (between 3 to 5 mm Hg for systolic and 2 to 3 mm Hg for diastolic), this effect may be magnified with blood pressure medications or if you have low blood pressure to begin with.

Even if you do not have one of the conditions listed above, it’s always a good idea to let your healthcare provider know that you wish to add omega-3 fatty acid supplements to your lipid-lowering plan. This way, he or she can prevent any unwanted interactions with other medications that you are taking and help with any side effects you may experience.

Sources:

Dipiro JT, Talbert RL. Pharmacotherapy: A Pathophysiological Approach, 9th ed 2014.

Micromedex 2.0.  Truven Health Analytics, Inc. Greenwood Village, CO.  Available at: http://www.micromedexsolutions.com.  Accessed February 10, 2016

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