Fish oil is one of the most popular dietary supplements on the market. It provides omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential fats with wide-ranging benefits for health. But with so many different fish oil options and dosages, how do you know how much you should be taking to get the full benefits?
What are the benefits of fish oil?
Here are some of the top scientifically-proven benefits of getting enough omega-3s from fish oil:
- Heart health – Omega-3s help lower triglycerides, reduce blood pressure, and may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Brain health – Omega-3s support optimal brain function and mental wellbeing. They may improve memory and focus and help with depression, ADHD, and dementia.
- Eye health – Omega-3s are concentrated in the retina and promote eye development and visual function.
- Pregnancy health – Omega-3s are critical for fetal brain and eye development. They may reduce the risk of premature birth.
- Skin and hair health – Omega-3s keep cell membranes flexible and hydrated for smooth, supple skin and glossy hair.
- Joint health – Omega-3s reduce inflammatory cytokines that degrade cartilage and bone. They alleviate joint stiffness and pain.
- Metabolic health – Omega-3s help regulate blood sugar, insulin, and inflammation levels. They may protect against obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.
- Immune health – Omega-3s boost immune cell activity and cytokine production for enhanced immunity against infections.
How much EPA and DHA should I get from fish oil?
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are the two main active omega-3s in fish oil that provide all these benefits. According to major health organizations, adults should get a minimum of 250-500 mg combined EPA and DHA per day for general health.
Here are the official recommendations from leading health authorities:
- American Heart Association – At least 500 mg EPA+DHA per day
- Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics – 500 mg EPA+DHA per day
- European Food Safety Authority – 250-500 mg EPA+DHA per day
- World Health Organization – 200-500 mg EPA+DHA per day
For optimal health and disease prevention, some functional medicine doctors recommend up to 1000-2000 mg EPA+DHA daily. Higher doses within this range may be appropriate for addressing a specific health condition.
How much fish oil equals 500 mg EPA+DHA?
To meet the minimum recommendations of 500 mg combined EPA+DHA per day, the amount of actual fish oil you need to take depends on the EPA/DHA concentration of your supplement. Here is a simple calculation:
[EPA+DHA dose you want (mg) / EPA+DHA concentration per pill (%)] = Fish oil dosage (in pills)
For example, if your fish oil contains 30% EPA+DHA per pill, you would need:
[500 mg EPA+DHA desired / 0.3 EPA+DHA per pill] = 1667 mg or ~1.7 grams fish oil per day, in 2-3 pills.
Make sure to check the Supplement Facts label on your fish oil product for the amounts of EPA and DHA so you know the correct dosage to take.
Typical EPA/DHA concentrations in fish oil products
|Fish oil type
|EPA+DHA per serving
|Standard fish oil
|30% (300mg per 1g)
|High potency fish oil
|50% (500mg per 1g)
|Ultra-pure fish oil
|90% (900mg per 1g)
As you can see, regular fish oil capsules that provide 300mg EPA+DHA per gram would require ~1.7 grams daily, while ultra-pure formulas need less volume to provide the same amount.
What types of fish oil are highest quality?
For optimal purity and freshness, look for a fish oil supplement that meets the following quality standards:
- Molecularly distilled or filtered – Removes contaminants and concentrates EPA/DHA content
- Third-party tested – Confirms accurate EPA/DHA amounts and lack of mercury or other toxins
- Sustainably sourced – Typically from small, cold-water fatty fish like anchovies and sardines
- Fresh oil – Minimally processed and low in oxidative damage and rancidity
- High potency – At least 50% EPA/DHA per gram for less volume needed
- Natural triglyceride form – For optimal absorption compared to synthetic ethyl ester oils
A pharmaceutical-grade fish oil with all these characteristics provides you with a potent source of purified and absorbable omega-3s for boosting daily intake.
How much fish oil should you take for specific health goals?
While 500 mg EPA+DHA daily meets basic needs, some individuals may benefit from higher doses for certain therapeutic health goals. Here are science-based recommendations for specific benefits:
Heart health – 1000 mg EPA+DHA per day
For reducing elevated triglycerides by up to 30% and supporting cardiovascular protection, 1-2 grams of EPA+DHA from fish oil daily is optimal.
Brain and mental health – 1000 mg EPA+DHA per day
For depression, ADHD, memory support, and anti-aging benefits, studies use doses of 1-2 grams of EPA+DHA from fish oil.
Eye health – 500-1000 mg EPA+DHA per day
To support macular health, reduce eye dryness, and slow vision loss, 500-1000 mg/day of EPA+DHA is beneficial.
Pregnancy and lactation – 200-600 mg DHA per day
For fetal brain and eye development, pregnant women are advised to get at least 200 mg of DHA from fish oil, up to as much as 600-1000 mg.
Anti-inflammatory benefits – 2000-3000 mg EPA+DHA per day
For reducing joint pain, inflammatory bowel disorders, arthritis, and autoimmunity, higher doses of 2-3 grams/day are often used.
Metabolic health – 3000-4000 mg EPA+DHA per day
For lowering inflammation, insulin, blood pressure, triglycerides, and oxidative stress, doses of 3-4 grams/day may provide optimal metabolic benefits.
Are there any risks or side effects of too much fish oil?
In healthy people, high doses of fish oil up to 5000 mg combined EPA+DHA daily have not shown any serious risks or side effects in research studies. The most commonly reported side effects are:
- Fishy aftertaste – Can be minimized by taking frozen or enteric-coated capsules
- Fishy burps – Taking with meals helps reduce gastrointestinal upset
- Increased bruising risk – Very high doses may prolong bleeding time
- Elevated blood sugar – In diabetics, doses over 3 grams may temporarily increase blood glucose
- Immune suppression – Extremely high doses over 5 grams are not recommended
People taking blood thinners like aspirin or warfarin should consult their doctor before taking high amounts of fish oil due to increased bleeding risk. Otherwise, fish oil is very well-tolerated and any side effects are reversible by lowering the dosage.
- For general health, aim for at least 500mg combined EPA+DHA daily from fish oil.
- Check your supplement facts to calculate the dosage needed to provide this amount.
- Look for a high quality, purified fish oil concentrate for optimal freshness and absorption.
- Higher doses of 1-4 grams daily may be beneficial for certain therapeutic benefits.
- Fish oil is well-tolerated with minimal side effects at recommended dosages.
Fish oil remains one of the most valuable dietary supplements for supporting whole-body wellness. While the standard recommendation is at least 500mg EPA+DHA daily, therapeutic doses up to 2-4 grams are safe and provide additional anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting benefits. Always choose a quality-tested fish oil concentrate for optimal purity and potency.