Omega-3 for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Salmon with herbs and lemon.
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There is no compelling evidence suggesting that omega-3 supplements, which are often taken in the form of fish oil, flaxseed oil, or zinzino oil, are effective for treating fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. Omega-3 fatty acids are among the most common supplements taken by people with fibromyalgia. and they are generally considered safe. But non-pharmacologic vitamin supplementation carries additional side effects such as acid reflux or a risk of bleeding.

Omega-3s for Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Fish oil is classified as a polyunsaturated fat, which is considered a good fat—as opposed to bad fat, which is saturated.

Omega-3s are believed to play many important roles in the body, including:

Some researchers hypothesize that omega-3 fatty acids may help alleviate oxidative stress, which studies suggest may play a role in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Many people take omega-3 supplements or eat a diet rich in omega-3s in order to combat inflammation. Chronic fatigue syndrome is believed to be associated with pro-inflammatory cytokines. Some research suggests that fibromyalgia may involve inflammation of the fascia.

We don't know yet whether these supplements help counter the cognitive dysfunction ("fibro fog") or unique pain types of these conditions or the cardiovascular irregularities that are common in chronic fatigue syndrome.


Some health professionals recommend that people who don't eat a diet that's rich in omega-3s take 500 milligrams a day in supplements.

Healthcare providers may recommend that people with certain conditions, such as heart disease, take more. It's important for you to discuss your supplement needs with your healthcare provider.

Omega-3s in Your Diet

You can get dietary omega-3 fatty acids in several foods, including:

  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, anchovies)
  • Seaweed
  • Algae
  • Walnuts
  • Canola and hempseed oils
  • Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
  • Soybeans

Side Effects

Some people don't like the "fishy" taste these supplements can leave behind. Taking them with meals can help alleviate this problem. It may also help to start with a low dosage and gradually increase it.

And just because omega-3s are natural doesn't mean they're safe for everyone or in any amount. It's important for you to be aware of possible side effects.

Common side effects include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased burping
  • Heartburn/acid reflux
  • Abdominal pain and bloating

Long-term supplementation may cause vitamin E deficiency. If there's a concern about this, your healthcare provider can test you for this problem.

While rare at lower dosages, omega-3s may increase your risk of bleeding problems, including a type of stroke. Higher doses may also be linked to nosebleeds and blood in the urine. A blood sugar increase in diabetics is possible, but not common.

Sometimes people take these supplements to help alleviate depression, asthma, painful periods, and rheumatoid arthritis. However, the evidence is not compelling in these areas. And if you have major depression or bipolar disorder, you may experience mania, restlessness, or a crawling sensation on the skin when taking these supplements.

Some fish may contain contaminants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and methylmercury. These substances are believed to build up in the meat, not the oil, so supplements are considered safe.

Is It Right for You?

It's always a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about supplements you'd like to try so you can make sure it won't be a problem with any of your other medications or conditions.

Omega-3 is generally considered safe and is readily available anywhere that sells supplements, so it's an easy one to add to your treatment regimen if you get approval from your healthcare provider.

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By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.