Practical applications of fish oil (Omega-3 fatty acids) in primary care

J Am Board Fam Pract. 2005 Jan-Feb;18(1):28-36. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.18.1.28.


Background: Fish oil (Omega-3 fatty acids) has been studied for more than 30 years. However, recent concerns of mercury and environmental toxins have clouded fish oil's potential clinical benefits. This article aims to review practical, evidence-based applications of fish oil for the primary care physician.

Methods: PubMed search using key words 'fish oil,' 'docosahexaenoic,' and 'eicosapentaenoic' in title/abstract. Limited to human clinical trials. Articles were further scanned for relevant sources.

Results: For secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, 1 g of fish oil has shown to reduce overall and cardiovascular mortality, myocardial infarction, and sudden cardiac death. Higher doses may be used for its potent triglyceride-lowering effects and for patients with rheumatoid arthritis to reduce nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory use. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation of infant formula has shown benefit in infant neural growth and development. With the potential health benefits of fish, women of childbearing age should be encouraged to eat 1 to 2 low-mercury fish meals per week.

Conclusions: Fish oil has numerous practical applications for the primary care physician. Understanding the diverse clinical research of Omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil is important in determining its role in primary care practices.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Fish Oils / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Hypertriglyceridemia / prevention & control
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula / chemistry
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Mercury / adverse effects
  • Primary Health Care


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fish Oils
  • Mercury