Fish Oil and Migraine

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023

Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help brain function and cell growth. They are involved in keeping our hearts and blood vessels healthy. They may also help reduce inflammation. Our bodies do not make omega-3 fatty acids naturally. Instead, we get them from our diet or supplements.1-3

Omega-3 fatty acids

Fish oil contains 2 omega-3 fatty acids. These are known as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Another form of omega-3 fatty acid is called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). ALA comes from plant sources.1-3

Fish oil and migraine research

There is limited information available about the relationship between migraine and fish oil. Fish oil is thought to reduce inflammation. Some experts think lowering inflammation may play a role in preventing migraine attacks or treating symptoms. Others believe fish oil may impact the way our cells communicate with one another to reduce pain.4-6

However, current research is conflicted on the actual benefit (if any) fish oil has for those living with migraine. More studies are needed to uncover the relationship between fish oil and migraine.4-6

How to get fish oil into your diet

Getting fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids directly from your diet is better for you than getting them from supplements. Common foods that contain fish oil include:1-3

  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Sardines
  • Albacore tuna
  • Mackerel

Although it is not in fish oil, we can get the omega-3 fatty acid ALA from plant sources, including:1-3

  • Walnuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Canola and soy oils
  • Soybeans
  • Tofu
  • Ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil

Side effects

It is difficult to get too much fish oil from diet alone. However, taking large doses of fish oil supplements can lead to side effects. Several of these include:1-3

  • Bad breath or an unpleasant taste in your mouth
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Strong-smelling sweat

These are not all the possible side effects of too much fish oil. Talk to your doctor about what to expect or if you experience any changes that concern you while taking fish oil.

Who should not take fish oil supplements?

Fish oil supplements may interact with some drugs. Tell your doctor if you take fish oil supplements before starting a new drug. It is also helpful to talk with your doctor before starting fish oil supplements to make sure they are safe for you. People who are allergic to fish may also have a reaction to fish oil supplements.1-3

Fish oil supplements themselves do not contain mercury. However, the fatty fish we eat may. Some examples of fish that may have high levels of mercury are swordfish, shark, and tilefish. Pregnant women and children should avoid mercury-containing fish whenever possible.1-3

Other things to know

As always, the best source for advice on treating migraine is your own migraine specialist. Fish oil may be “natural,” but it can affect your health and interact with other drugs you take.

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