By Shereen Lehman, MS – Reviewed by a board-certified physician.
Updated April 16, 2016

Question: I hate the taste of fish, and I’m kind of scared of mercury poisoning. Can I take omega-3 fatty acid supplements, so I don’t have to eat fish?”
Answer: Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for nervous system function, and consuming more omega-3s may be good for dry skin and eyes, and definitely good for your heart. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, herring and trout are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

That’s important because those are the forms of omega-3s that your body needs.

But, you don’t need to eat fish to get your omega-3s fatty acids. You can either increase your intake of plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids or take omega-3 fatty acid supplements.

Flax seeds, pumpkins, soy, walnuts and canola oil contain an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It has a slightly different structure compared to EPA and DHA, but for the most part, your body will convert the ALA to either DHA or EPA depending upon which fatty acid your body needs.

It’s easy to do this. For example, you can add pumpkin seeds to a salad, cook with canola oil, and snack on walnuts. You can also buy milled flax seeds and take them by the spoonful — similar to taking a supplement.
If you need large doses of EPA or DHA, then plant sources may not cut it. In that case, you’ll need to take fish oil or omega-3 fatty acid supplements.

Of course, if you don’t like fish, you’ll probably really hate the ‘fish burps’ that these supplements can cause. So another option is algal oil, which is made from ocean algae. It’s the only plant source that contains pre-formed DHA.
Both fish oil and plant-based omega-3 fatty acid supplements are safe to take as long as you follow the label directions.
Taking these supplements for extended periods of time may lead to vitamin E deficiencies in some people, and taking large amounts of omega-3 supplements may interfere with blood clotting or interact with certain medications. So whether you decide to eat more fish or not, please speak with your healthcare provider before taking large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids or any other dietary supplements.

American Cancer Society. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” Accessed March 16, 2016.
Arterburn LM, Oken HA, Bailey Hall E, Hamersley J, Kuratko CN, Hoffman JP. “Algal-oil capsules and cooked salmon: nutritionally equivalent sources of docosahexaenoic acid.” J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Jul;108(7):1204-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2008.04.020. Accessed March 16, 2016.
Bloedon LT, Balikai S, Chittams J, Cunnane SC, Berlin JA, Rader DJ, Szapary PO. “Flaxseed and cardiovascular risk factors: results from a double blind, randomized, controlled clinical trial.” J Am Coll Nutr. 2008 Feb;27(1):65-74. Accessed March 16, 2016.



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