Safety and tolerability of prescription omega-3 fatty acids: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2018 Feb;129:1-12. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2018.01.001. Epub 2018 Jan 5.


Background: Omega-3 fatty acids [eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)] are widely recommended for health promotion. Over the last decade, prescription omega-3 fatty acid products (RxOME3FAs) have been approved for medical indications. Nonetheless, there is no comprehensive analysis of safety and tolerability of RxOME3FAs so far.

Methods: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) was carried out based on searches in six electronic databases. The studies involving marketed RxOME3FA products were included, and adverse-effect data were extracted for meta-analysis. Subgroup analysis and meta-regression were conducted to explore the sources of potential heterogeneity.

Results: Among the 21 included RCTs (total 24,460 participants; 12,750 from RxOME3FA treatment cohort and 11,710 from control cohort), there was no definite evidence of any RxOME3FA-emerging serious adverse event. Compared with the control group, RxOME3FAs were associated with more treatment-related dysgeusia (fishy taste; p = 0.011) and skin abnormalities (eruption, itching, exanthema, or eczema; p < 0.001). Besides, RxOME3FAs had mild adverse effects upon some non-lipid laboratory measurements [elevated fasting blood sugar (p = 0.005); elevated alanine transaminase (p = 0.022); elevated blood urea nitrogen (p = 0.047); decreased hemoglobin (p = 0.002); decreased hematocrit (p = 0.009)]. Subgroup analysis revealed that EPA/DHA combination products were associated with more treatment-related gastrointestinal adverse events [eructation (belching; p = 0.010); nausea (p = 0.044)] and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol elevation (p = 0.009; difference in means = 4.106mg/dL).

Conclusion: RxOME3FAs are generally safe and well tolerated but not free of adverse effects. Post-marketing surveillance and observational studies are still necessary to identify long-term adverse effects and to confirm the safety and tolerability profiles of RxOME3FAs.

Keywords: Adverse effect; Adverse event; Omega-3 fatty acid; Prescription; Safety; Tolerability.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Cholesterol, LDL / blood
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / adverse effects
  • Dysgeusia / diagnosis
  • Dysgeusia / etiology
  • Eczema / diagnosis
  • Eczema / etiology
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / adverse effects
  • Exanthema / diagnosis
  • Exanthema / etiology
  • Humans
  • Patient Safety
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Blood Glucose
  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid