Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements and Prescriptions
Prescription Omega-3s and Your Health
Prescription fish oil capsules contain a higher dose of omega-3 fatty acids than non-prescription versions.
Your doctor will probably only recommended prescription-strength fish oil if your triglycerides are very high (more than 500 mg/dL).
Research suggests very high triglyceride levels are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. However, more research is needed to determine if prescription omega-3s lower the risk of heart disease.
Very high triglycerides are also linked to pancreatitis.
Two types of prescription-strength omega-3 fatty acids are available:
Lovaza (omega-3-acid ethyl esters). This contains a combination of EPA and DHA.
Vascepa (icosapent ethyl). This contains EPA only.
Prescription omega-3s are taken as four 1-gram capsules a day.
Side Effects of Non-Prescription Omega-3s
The FDA doesn't regulate supplements as closely as prescriptions. So the amount of omega-3s listed on the label may be higher than what you actually get. In addition, supplements may not be pure omega-3s and may contain other ingredients or contaminants.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements come in many different doses and types. Each supplement can contain different ingredients, depending on the manufacturer's standards.
Non-prescription omega-3 fatty acid supplements may cause mild side effects, such as:
- Fishy burps or taste in the mouth
- Upset stomach
Talk to your doctor before taking omega-3 supplements if you:
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Take blood-thinning medicines
- Have an allergy to fish or shellfish
Also, ask your doctor if you really need to take an omega-3 supplement. In most cases, all you need are a few adjustments to your diet. If your doctor does recommend a supplement, ask what type and dose you should use. Be sure to talk about your health history and other medicines you're taking.
Side Effects of Prescription Omega-3s
Common side effects of prescription omega-3s vary according to the type of prescription.
Side effects of Lovaza include:
- Unpleasant taste in mouth
- Upset stomach
A common side effect of Vascepa is joint pain.
Prescription omega-3 fatty acids or high doses of omega-3 supplements may also affect the blood's ability to clot. People who take blood-thinning medications should be aware of this precaution if they also take omega-3s. Talk to your doctor if you take blood thinning medicines, such as Coumadin (warfarin) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
Omega-3 fatty acids lower high triglyceride levels, but brands that contain DHA may raise levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol. This could be a problem if you also have high cholesterol, which often goes hand-in-hand with high triglycerides.