Health benefits and potential risks related to consumption of fish or fish oil

Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2003 Dec;38(3):336-44. doi: 10.1016/j.yrtph.2003.07.002.


The nutritional benefits of fish consumption relate to the utilization of proteins of high biological value, as well as certain minerals and vitamins that fish provide. Fish or fish oil contains omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that appear to play several useful roles for human health. Conversely, some carcinogenic contaminants are also stored in the adipose tissue of fish. The objective of this paper is to evaluate the potential health benefits and risks related to the consumption of fish or fish oil. Health benefits related to the consumption of fish or omega-3 PUFAs were obtained by an extensive literature search. Potential health risks related to carcinogenic contaminants (e.g., dioxin, PCB, etc.) in fish were estimated using the U.S. EPA-approved cancer risk assessment guidelines. Potential health risk estimates were evaluated by comparing them with the acceptable excess risk level of 10(-6)-10(-4). Scientific data indicate that the consumption of fish or fish oil containing omega-3 PUFAs reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, decreases mild hypertension, and prevents certain cardiac arrhythmias and sudden death. Risk estimates in humans for carcinogenic environmental contaminants in fish ranged from an excess risk level of 3x10(-6)-9x10(-4). These risk estimates appeared to meet the acceptable excess risk level criteria. Therefore, consumption of fish in accordance with the State of Michigan Fish Advisory Guidelines is safe and should be encouraged. The top 11 fish species [e.g., sardines, mackerel, herring (Atlantic and Pacific), lake trout, salmon (Chinook, Atlantic, and Sockeye), anchovy (European), sablefish, and bluefish] provide an adequate amount of omega-3 PUFAs (2.7-7.5g/meal) and appear to meet the nutritional recommendation of the American Heart Association.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • American Heart Association
  • Animals
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / adverse effects
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Fish Oils / adverse effects*
  • Fish Oils / therapeutic use*
  • Fishes
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Michigan
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Seafood*
  • United States


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fish Oils