Your questions about complementary medicines answered: Fish oil

Sanne Kreijkamp-Kaspers*, Treasure McGuire, Suzanne Bedford, Peter Loadsman, Marie Pirotta, Geraldine Moses, Mieke van Driel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate/opinionResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


What is fish oil?
Fish oil, derived from fatty fish, is an important source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFA) including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). In Australia, it is widely used and 25.2% of respondents in the 2010 health survey reported that they had taken fish oil in the previous 24 hours. Fish oil, in the form of cod liver oil, became popular in the 19th century as a source of vitamin D for sun-deprived children in Europe. Today it is used mostly by consumers hoping to prevent cardiovascular disease and stroke. The National Heart Foundation of Australia recommends an intake of 500 mg DHA and EPA daily for the general population, and double that for patients with confirmed heart disease whereas others question this advice.

Fish oil has also been used for inflammatory conditions such as joint pains, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. There are few systematic reviews relating to indications for fish oils and controlled clinical trials continue to produce conflicting results, not only for effectiveness but also for the dose required for efficacy. Investigations across a variety of inflammatory diseases suggest efficacy is dose-dependent. Collectively, these studies indicate that the anti-inflammatory dose of fish oil requires 2.7 g or more of n-3 PUFA daily. However, this requires a daily dose of nine or more standard fish oil capsules, which typically contain 30% long chain n-3 PUFAs w/w, whereas people who self-medicate with fish oil generally take one or two capsules daily.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-470
Number of pages2
JournalAustralian Family Physician
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015


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