Why Are You Taking Fish Oil Supplements?
Credit: Viktorija Kuprijanova | Dreamstime

The other day, I was chatting with a friend about supplements, and found out something that concerned me a bit. Apparently, my friend had been taking fish oil supplements for years, but the concerning part is that she didn't really seem to know why she was taking them.

She said, "I think it has something to do with heart health, but I don't remember."

It made me start to wonder: How many people start taking vitamins and supplements based on one view, and then stop thinking about it?

Fortunately, fish oil is thought to have many health benefits. And she's right about it "having something to do with heart health." Here is a look at some of the possible health benefits of fish oil.

Fish oil and heart health

There is evidence that fish oil may improve heart health. A 2009 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggested that people without cardiovascular disease should consume a minimum of 500 milligrams per day of the oils EPA and DHA to prevent coronary heart disease, and those with known coronary heart disease should consume at least 800 mg daily. [10 Amazing Facts About Your Heart]

The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may also reduce the risk of sudden death in people without symptoms of cardiovascular disease, according to the results of a 2002 New England Journal of Medicine study.

Fish oil and mental health

Some evidence also suggests that fish oil may have mental health benefits. One study found that fish oil and exercise, exclusive of each another, improved people's cognitive performance and protected against neurological lesions, according to the findings published in 2013 in the journal Behavioral Brain Research.

In another study, researchers found that patients who ate fish at least once weekly were 60 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than those who ate fish rarely or never, according to results published in 2003 in the journal JAMA Neurology.

Fish oil in the diet

As with most things, if you're consuming an adequate amount of fish oil through your diet, there is no need to take a supplement in order to experience its health benefits. Moreover, if you are supplementing with fish oil, or anything else, it's a good idea to fully understand the health benefits and potential side effects.

As with all supplements, please discuss taking fish oil with your health care professional, especially if your physician has prescribed a blood thinner.

Healthy Bites appears weekly on LiveScience. Deborah Herlax Enos is a certified nutritionist and a health coach and weight loss expert in the Seattle area with more than 20 years of experience. Read more tips on her blog, Health in a Hurry!