Is Too Much Fish Oil Harmful?

Tuesday, 29 Oct 2013 04:08 PM

By Nick Tate

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When it comes to fish oil, you can get too much of a good thing.
 
A new review of studies suggests that omega-3 fatty acids taken in excess can have negative side effects in some people, and that better dietary standards need to be established.
 
"What looked like a slam dunk a few years ago may not be as clear cut as we thought," said Norman Hord, associate professor in Ohio State University's College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
 
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"We are seeing the potential for negative effects at really high levels of omega-3 fatty acid consumption. Because we lack valid biomarkers for exposure and knowledge of who might be at risk if consuming excessive amounts, it isn't possible to determine an upper limit at this time."
 
Past research by Michigan State University's Jenifer Fenton found that feeding mice large amounts of dietary omega-3 fatty acids led to increased risk of colitis and immune alteration. As a follow-up, published online in the journal Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes & Essential Fatty Acids, Fenton and Hord review studies examining potential adverse effects from excess consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.
 
Studies have shown that omega-3s, also known as long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs), are associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, but some have also suggested high levels mayt increase prostate cancer and heart risks in some people.
 
Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that can be beneficial to heart health and inflammatory issues. But the new review found excess amounts of omega-3 fatty acids — well above what most people typically consume through diet and supplements — can alter immune function sometimes in ways that may hinder the immune system's response to a viral or bacterial infection.
 
"The dysfunctional immune response to excessive omega-3 fatty acid consumption can affect the body's ability to fight microbial pathogens, like bacteria," Hord said.
 
Hord noted an increasing number of food products, such as eggs, bread, butters, oils and orange juice, are being "fortified" with omega-3s. Coupled with fish oil supplement use, eating such products can increase the potential for consuming these high levels.
 
"Overall, we support the dietary recommendations from the American Heart Association to eat fish, particularly fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, lake trout, or sardines, at least two times a week, and for those at risk of coronary artery disease to talk to their doctor about supplements," he said.
 
"Our main concern here is the hyper-supplemented individual, who may be taking high-dose omega-3 supplements and eating four to five omega-3-enriched foods per day.

This could potentially get someone to an excessive amount. As our paper indicates, there may be subgroups of those who may be at risk from consuming excess amounts of these fatty acids."
 
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The study was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health and the Canadian Diabetes Association.

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