You want to support your body during any phase of change in life, and perimenopause and menopause are no exception. For many women, this means adding targeted nutrition and/or supplements to help fill in the gaps when food is not enough to get the results you want.
Fish oil is a popular supplement that's been used for many different indications and across all groups of people. Fish oil contains key nutrients called omega-3 fatty acids, which are found naturally in fish and some other foods. So, if you eat fish, do you need a fish oil supplement? And what are the benefits of fish oil for women?
To answer all of these questions and more, we talked to Bonafide experts, including Dr. Alyssa Dweck, Chief Medical Officer and Jim Komorowski, Chief Science Officer. Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of fish oil for women in menopause and beyond.
Benefits of Fish Oil for Women
Many of the benefits of fish oil extend beyond reducing menopausal symptoms, but if you are in menopause or perimenopause, there are a few key symptoms that fish oil may help, including depressed moods and hot flashes.
One of the main ways that fish oil works is by targeting inflammation. Chronic inflammation is at the root of many diseases and symptoms, and fish oil targets it by lowering the body's production of inflammatory substances.1
Fish Oil’s Impact on Depressed Moods and Mental Health
Some women experience symptoms of depressed moods while going through menopause, and the benefits of omega-3's found in fish oil are a topic of interest for their potential to help with these shifts in mood. One review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences suggested omega-3 fatty acids might have a slight beneficial effect on menopause and symptoms related to depressive moods.2 Additional research, however, is needed.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, in addition to anti-inflammatory benefits, omega-3s found in fish oil can travel through the brain cell membrane, which is thought to be one of the ways that fish oil may benefit depressed moods and boost brain health,3 however, more in-depth research is required in order to validate this theory regarding fish oil’s impact on these symptoms.
Fish Oil for Menopausal Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Night sweats and hot flashes are common menopausal symptoms that can tremendously affect everyday life and sleep quality. An analysis of research on omega-3 supplementation for menopausal women found that omega-3s for menopause, might be helpful for night sweats, but not for hot flashes.4 That said, according to the analysis noted, there has not been enough evidence on this subject to provide any definitive conclusions. For this reason, always speak with your own healthcare provider to understand if omega-3 or fish oil supplements are right for you.
Other Health Benefits of Omega-3s for Menopause
“In addition to the potential benefits on mental health and cardiovascular risk, omega-3 fatty acids may improve bone and joint health, which specifically benefits the menopausal population," says Dr. Dweck. "Sleep may be improved with adequate omega-3 fatty acid intake since low levels seem to be associated with lower melatonin levels," continues Dr. Dweck. In addition to these health benefits, Dr. Dweck says that benefits of omega-3 for women may include positive effects on skin health as well. There are not, however, any conclusive studies on fish oil and vaginal dryness symptoms.
What to Look for in a Fish Oil Supplement
Not all supplements are created with equal integrity, and this certainly applies to fish oil. Just like it's important to source the fish we eat responsibly, there are important things to keep in mind when it comes to choosing a fish oil supplement and understanding the benefits of fish oil for women.
“DHA and EPA are the most important types of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil and amounts matter. More is better in this case," says Dr. Dweck. "For best absorption, triglycerides and free fatty acid forms are best. Purity is vital, particularly as it relates to mercury, which should be avoided.”
Again, look for high amounts of EPA and DHA when shopping for a supplement. "In addition, lower quality fish oil capsules can have a bad fishy taste or aftertaste. Be sure to look for supplements that remove impurities that can cause the fishy aftertaste and provide a higher concentration of the healthy omega-3s," says Komorowski.
Omega-3 Rich Foods to Enjoy
Whether you enjoy fish every day, or just occasionally, eating fish is a good way to get more omega-3s into your diet and reap the benefits of fish oil. But since many people don't eat fish daily, or don't enjoy seafood, an omega-3 supplement can help you get these important fatty acids each day, no matter what you eat. "Some people prefer a high-quality omega-3 supplement, as it is easy to add to your diet for those who do not eat fish frequently,” says Komorowski.
Here are some of the best food sources of omega-3s5:
- Sea Bass
Vegetarian sources of omega-3s include5:
- Seeds: flaxseed, chia seed, hemp seed
- Kidney beans
- Soy (edamame, soybean oil)
Potential Side Effects and Risks of Fish Oil for Menopause
Fish oil supplements are generally safe, but you should always check with your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement.
“There is a small risk for bleeding and/or heart arrhythmia; those at risk should check in with their healthcare provider [before using fish oil]," says Dr. Dweck. "Historically, recommendations to stop fish oil prior to surgery were made due to concerns about bleeding.6 Those sensitive or allergic should also avoid use,” says Dr. Dweck. It’s always important to weigh the risks vs. benefits of fish oil for menopause and to consult with a provider if you have any questions or concerns.