Taking Fish Oil for PCOS

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Fish oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids that may help relieve some conditions associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

Studies show that fish oil can reduce triglycerides, in addition to easing period pain, and reducing insulin resistance.

Fish oil may be specifically helpful for women with PCOS because of the increased risk of heart disease and elevated triglyceride levels that exist in people with this condition. But a recent study has shown that supplements may not be as effective at reducing the risk of heart disease as previously thought. Your best bet? To add more fatty fish to your diet rather than relying on supplements.

What Is Fish Oil?

Stored in the fat of coldwater fish, fish oil is an omega-3 polyunsaturated fat that is rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

EPA and DHA are essential fatty acids that the body cannot produce and can only come from diet or supplementation. These essential fatty acids are an integral part of cell membranes throughout the body and are a building block for hormones that regulate blood clotting and inflammation.

Out of Balance

The standard American diet tends to be lacking in omega-3 fats, while also being heavy on omega-6 fats, another polyunsaturated fat. Omega-6s are found primarily in vegetable oils that are widely used in baked goods and fried foods.

As a result of this abundance of omega-6 fats in the Western diet, the recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is out of balance, leading to an increase in obesity, according to one study. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the optimal ratio is not defined, and too non-specific for the average individual. Instead, NIH generally recommends that increasing omega-3 intake is more important than working to reduce omega-6 intake. This also applies to women with PCOS.

Adding Fish Oil to Your Diet

To get the most health benefits of omega-3 rich fish oil in your diet, the best method is to simply eat more fish. But another alternative is to take fish oil supplements, though the evidence has shown that this is slightly more complicated: Higher consumption of fatty fish seems to be protective against cardiovascular disease (CVD) and many CVD outcomes, but recent studies have shown that omega-3 dietary supplements may not offer the same protection. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of cold-water fish per week.

Mackerel, tuna, salmon, sturgeon, mullet, bluefish, anchovy, sardines, herring, trout, and menhaden are especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids, providing about 1 gram of essential fats per 3.5 ounce serving, or about 3/4 cup of flaky fish. Be sure to prepare them grilled or broiled, not fried, to best preserve their benefits.

Taking Fish Oil Supplements

Fish oil is generally safe and well-tolerated by most people, including pregnant and breastfeeding women when taken in low doses (less than 3 grams per day). Be sure to look for a supplement that uses small fish such as anchovy or sardines rather than tuna, for example, to limit mercury exposure.

The current recommended daily intake for adult women is 1.1 grams.

Studies suggest the following fish oil doses may be helpful for a variety of conditions:

  • High triglycerides: 1 to 4 grams per day
  • Painful menstrual periods: 300 milligrams (mg) of omega-3, (180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA), especially in combination with 200 IU of vitamin E 
  • Increasing insulin sensitivity: 1 to 4 grams per day

When taking fish oil supplements, some people may experience uncomfortable side effects, such as fishy burps. Taking fish oil with meals or storing supplements in the freezer can help to prevent this.

Talk to Your Doctor

Prior to taking fish oil, you should speak with your doctor to determine if supplementing is right for you and how much you should take.

Patients who are on blood thinners like aspirin, Lovenox, coumadin, or heparin should not take fish oil as it may increase the risk of bleeding.

Patients taking medication for high blood pressure should also use caution when taking fish oil as the combination may lower blood pressure too drastically.

Birth control pills may interfere with the triglyceride-lowering effects of fish oil and women should use caution when combining these drugs.

Do not take fish oil supplements if you are allergic to fish.

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Article Sources

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  1. Sadeghi N, Paknezhad F, Rashidi Nooshabadi M, Kavianpour M, Jafari Rad S, Khadem Haghighian H. Vitamin E and fish oil, separately or in combination, on treatment of primary dysmenorrhea: a double-blind, randomized clinical trial. Gynecological Endocrinology. 2018 Sep 2;34(9):804-8. doi:10.1080/09513590.2018.1450377

  2. Gao H, Geng T, Huang T, Zhao Q. Fish oil supplementation and insulin sensitivity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lipids in Health and Disease. 2017 Dec;16(1):131. doi:10.1186/s12944-017-0528-0

  3. Manson JE, Cook NR, Lee IM, Christen W, Bassuk SS, Mora S, Gibson H, Albert CM, Gordon D, Copeland T, D’Agostino D. Marine n− 3 fatty acids and prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer. New England Journal of Medicine. 2019 Jan 3;380(1):23-32. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1811403

  4. Simopoulos AP. An increase in the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio increases the risk for obesity. Nutrients. 2016 Mar;8(3):128. doi:10.3390/nu8030128 

  5. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids: Fact sheet for health professionals. 2019.

  6. American Heart Association. Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. 2017.

Additional Reading

  • American Heart Association. Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.