Does taking fish oil for fertility really help?

fish oil
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When you're trying to get pregnant, it's always a good idea to eat a well-balanced diet that includes a wide variety of healthy foods. If you're curious about the benefits of omega-3s, taking omega-3s – or eating a diet rich in fatty fish with high amounts of omega-3s – can in fact up your fertility odds.

And another plus? Once you're pregnant, these nutrients are important for your growing baby's brain and eye development. 

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What is an omega-3 supplement?

An omega-3 supplement is one that contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential types of fats that the body needs but can't produce on its own. This means that omega-3s have to come from food or a supplement which is available in liquid form or as soft chews or a gel.

Fatty cold-water fish, such as salmon and sardines, contain the highest amounts of omega-3s, making fish the ideal food source. But whether you eat fish or plan to take a supplement, read labels carefully and look for two of the most important fatty acids, eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

What are the benefits of taking a fish oil supplement?

Taking fish oil supplements has numerous benefits for women who are pregnant and for those who are trying to conceive. In fact, consuming a healthy diet pre-pregnancy, especially one that's high in folic acid, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, has been linked to higher rates of fertility – and research bears this out.

One study of women ages 30 to 44 who were trying to get pregnant naturally noted that those who took omega-3 supplements had better chances of conception than those who didn't take omega-3s.

Omega-3s have been found to aid fertility by reducing inflammation, boosting ovulation and hormone production, and positively affecting the growth of oocytes, or immature eggs, in the ovaries.

And once pregnancy is underway, the benefits of taking a fish oil supplement continue. A review of studies looked at whether taking omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) could improve the health of babies-on-board as well as their mothers – and the results were very encouraging. The rate of preterm birth and very preterm birth was lower in those who took omega-3 LCPUFAs. There were also fewer babies with low birthweight in moms who took omega-3s.

Will taking omega-3s help my fertility?

Not only will taking omega-3s help with fertility, it's strongly suggested for every person who's trying to conceive or is already pregnant. Indeed, the science is that strong – and it's super easy to take a supplement or eat the foods that are high in EPA and DHA (there's also a plant-based form of omega-3 called alpha-linoleic or ALA).

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If you're trying to conceive, keep in mind that your body will store omega-3s for several weeks, so getting enough regularly will ensure that you have adequate levels when you become pregnant. In general, it's better if you can get your omegas from food – that way you'll benefit from other nutrients in the food at the same time.

But if you're worried about mercury in seafood, know that supplements are mercury-free and there are lots of healthy fish choices you can enjoy that are low in mercury.

Other sources of omega-3s

Beyond omega-3 supplements made from fish oil, you can also consider those derived from algae. These supplements are great for vegetarians, plus they have no fishy aftertaste. Just be sure that any omega-3 supplement brand you choose filters the oil to eliminate toxins, such as PCBs. See our article on buying supplements for guidance as you shop.

And when it comes to food sources for omega-3s, stick to the advice from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) which is also backed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These organizations recommend that women eat two to three servings per week (8 to 12 ounces total) of a variety of low-mercury seafood, such as haddock, hake, salmon, cod, sole, skate and shrimp.

And be certain to avoid those fish species that are known to be high in mercury, like king mackerel, marlin, swordfish, tilefish, shark and orange roughy.

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Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. a new window [Accessed August 2022]

March of Dimes. 2022. Healthy Eating Before Having a Baby. a new window [Accessed August 2022]

National Library of Medicine. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2022. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and fecundability. a new window [Accessed August 2022]

Cochrane. 2018. Omega-3 fatty acid addition during pregnancy. a new window [Accessed 2022]

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 2022. Update on Seafood Consumption During Pregnancy. a new window [Accessed 2022]

Chavarro JE, Furtado J, Toth TL, Ford J, Keller M, Campos H, Hauser R. Trans-fatty acid levels in sperm are associated with sperm concentration among men from an infertility clinic. Fertil Steril. 2011 Apr;95(5):1794-7. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2010.10.039Opens a new window. Epub 2010 Nov 11. PMID: 21071027; PMCID: PMC3062652.[Acccessed August 2022]

Jennifer Kelly Geddes

Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a New York City-based writer, editor, and fact-checker, and the mom of two teen girls. In her free time, Geddes can be found on her yoga mat, cross-country skiing, walking her rescue pup (a shepherd mix named Django), and spending time with her husband and daughters.