Fish has several health benefits, and one of the main benefits is its rich supply of omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, the heart-healthy benefits of fish reside primarily in the oil. So how can you take advantage of these important health benefits if you are allergic to fish?
The American Heart Association recommends the regular consumption of two types of omega-3 fatty acids – DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) – which are found in particularly high concentrations in oily fish such as herring, trout and sardines.
For people who don’t like fish or seafood, taking advantage of some of the health benefits is pretty easy: You have the option of taking omega-3 fish oil supplements. However, it is not clear whether you can take omega-3 fatty acid supplements if you are actually allergic to fish. Research and opinion are mixed.
Read on to learn what we and what we don’t know about fish allergy and the safety of omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
Studies produce conflicting results
A very small study of six people allergic to finfish provided a reassuring answer: the researchers found that these people treated fish oil supplements without an allergic reaction.
However, a case report in the medical literature of a woman with documented seafood allergy found that she suffered from severe allergy symptoms – swelling, shortness of breath, and chest tightness – after taking prescription fish oil capsules. Her symptoms subsided within five days of throwing the fish oil away, which she did after a trip to the emergency room.
Most fish oil supplement manufacturers advise (cautiously) not to consume the pills if you are allergic to fish. Fortunately, those who are allergic to fish have other ways to get their omega-3 fatty acids.
How To Get Omega-3 Fatty Acids If You Are Allergic to Fish
There are several vegetarian options for omega-3 supplements. These include: flaxseed oil, hemp oil and seaweed.
However, you should be aware that the human body does not use the omega-3 fatty acids in vegetable sources as efficiently as it does in seafood. Microalgae supplements like Spirulina are considered to be the most efficient sources of DHA, which the body can convert into EPA.
If for any reason your doctor has recommended omega-3 supplements, it is worth mentioning your fish allergy and asking if they consider vegetarian supplements to be the equivalent for your purposes.
For example, she may recommend a certain type of omega-3 vegetarian supplement, she may want to adjust your recommended dosage, or she might suggest that you adjust your diet to include certain foods that are naturally high in these fatty acids .
Three omega-3 supplements that are labeled as fish oil free include:
- Nordic Naturals Algae Omega. Nordic Naturals is known for its high quality fish oil supplements, but they created this vegetarian and vegan algae-based omega-3 product for those who can’t or don’t want to have fish-based dietary supplements. Each serving contains 195 milligrams of EPA and 390 milligrams of DHA.
- Ovega-3 vegetable omega-3 fatty acids. This vegetarian and vegan brand of omega-3 fatty acids gets its omega-3 fatty acids from algae. One serving contains 135 milligrams of EPA and 270 milligrams of DHA.
- Sundown Naturals Omega 3-6-9. In this vegetarian product, the fatty acids come from cold-pressed linseed oil and sunflower seed oil. It contains 495 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids.
A word from Verywell
Be aware that omega-3 fatty acids have so many health benefits that manufacturers are including them in more foods. In fact, some pretty unlikely foods are touted as heart-healthy omega-3 fats.
Therefore, if you see this information on packaging, read the label carefully to make sure that the source of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is not fish. Foods that are often supplemented in this way include margarines, cereals, and juices.