Fish oil

Fish oil for the treatment of migraine headaches: an introduction

Fish oil, as the name implies, comes from fish. It contains omega-3 fatty acids, which have been demonstrated through research to have a positive impact on heart health and can protect against stroke and heart disease.1

The research on fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids and migraine has been mixed. Some studies have found a benefit while others have found none. A review of the research has led experts to classify omega-3 fatty acids as having inadequate or conflicting data to support their use in migraine prevention.2

Sources of fish oil

The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish that are beneficial to the heart are EPA and DHA. Another omega-3 fatty acid, ALA, is found in certain nuts, seeds, tofu, and oils. ALA also has health benefits, but its effects aren’t as strong as EPA and DHA on the heart.1

While fish oil can be taken as a supplement, nutrition experts have found the best way to get omega-3 fatty acids is through food sources, such as:

  • Mackerel
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Trout1

Plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids (namely, ALA) can be found in foods such as:

  • Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
  • Walnuts
  • Tofu
  • Chia seed
  • Canola oil1

The American Heart Association recommends eating a 3.5 ounce size of fish twice a week to get the benefit of omega-3’s. Certain fish may be at a higher risk of being tainted with mercury, such as shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. These fish should be avoided by pregnant women and young children.1

Studies on fish oil and migraines

The research on fish oil has been mixed. Some small studies have found that fish oil supplementation may prevent or lessen the severity of migraine attacks, while other studies have found no benefit. Further research is needed to determine if there is any benefit on migraine. However, fish oil has been proven to be beneficial for heart health.

Side effects and other precautions

Consuming fish oil as recommended  is considered generally safe. However, fish oil supplements may cause side effects, including:

  • Fishy aftertaste
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash3

Overdose of fish oil may increase the risk of bleeding or stroke.3

Who should not take Fish oil

Children and pregnant women should avoid eating fish that may contain high levels of mercury, including shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.1

Fish oil or its ingredients may interact with other medications, such as blood thinners, NSAIDs, birth control pills, high blood pressure medicine or cholesterol drugs. You should discuss with your doctor all of the medications and natural remedies you take.3

People who are allergic to fish or seafood, may also be allergic to fish oil.

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As always, the best source for advice on treating your migraines is your own migraine specialist. These descriptions of natural remedies are provided only for informational purposes. You should begin no medication or supplement without first checking with your physician.

Written by: Emily Downward | Last review date: May 2018
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