Risks and Precautions
Omega 3 fatty acids, being nothing more that fats created by biological organisms (even yourself), are entirely safe for consumption qualitatively, and are present in many of our everyday foods. Consuming these is no different than eating a piece of fruit, and because of this there is no LD501 for omega 3s taken in the form of supplements or liquids. That said, there may be some risks associated with the consumption of these essential fatty acids for some individuals under particular circumstances due to the way they work in the body. While merely consuming omega 3 fatty acids in seafood and other dietary sources should be no cause for concern, those individuals who choose to significantly increase their intake, or use supplements may want to be aware of the potential risks if they have underlying health concerns that may be exacerbated by consuming higher levels of these fatty acids, and should do so only under the supervision of their physician.
Omega 3 fatty acids have blood thinning properties and may cause bleeding risks in some individuals. This means that those individuals already on blood thinning drugs or anti coagulants should avoid supplementing their diet with additional omega 3s without first consulting their healthcare provider. Those individuals with any type of bleeding disorder should not take supplements without the direction of a doctor, as individuals who take more than three grams of omega 3 fatty acids per day may at higher risk for hemorrhagic stroke (where an artery in the break ruptures or leaks) than those who consume less than this amount. While a healthy individual will likely have nothing to worry about, anyone who wishes to increase their consumption of omega 3s significantly should do so only under proper medical supervision.
Individuals with Schizophrenia and Diabetes may be unable to convert alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), the particular fats used in the body. This can result in additional health issues, so any individual with either of these conditions should check with their doctor before incorporating any foods or supplements rich in ALA into their diet.
While some omega 3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration, in some studies, ALA may actually increase one’s risk of developing this disorder. While these studies are as of yet inconclusive, to avoid this risk, it is probably safer for any individual with macular degeneration to ensure that they avoid foods and supplements rich in ALA and focus instead on those with DHA and EPA.
Some studies have shows that omega 3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of developing some cancers, however animal studies have shown that that consumption of ALA may increase the risk of prostate cancer and promote growth in late stage colon cancer. It is therefore safer for individuals at risk for these diseases to focus in their consumption of DHA and EPA and rather than ALA.
Due to the affects of omega 3 fatty acids, individuals taking any prescription medications should not use omega 3 supplements without first speaking with your healthcare professional. Some particular medications that definitely fall under this warning are blood-thinners of any sort, for example. This includes individuals taking aspirin on a regular or therapeutic basis.
Lower quality fish oil may carry with it potential risks due to the possibility of contaminants. While more reputable manufacturers of fish oil supplements will remove possible heavy metal and pollutant contamination through a process called molecular distillation, some do not use this method. While contamination is not an endemic problem in this industry, it is generally regarded as a good idea to find fish oil supplements that are molecularly distilled to reduce the possibility of ingesting unwanted contaminants, since they may concentrate in your body over time. Usually the bottle will say if the oil has been treated this way.
1 LD50 stands for "Lethal Dose, 50%" which is the median lethal dose in toxicology. Essentially, this is the dosage that would kill half of the members of a tested population. Fortunately this doesn’t apply to omega 3 fatty acids.