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Does fish oil lower cholesterol?

Medically reviewed on July 13, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Stroll through the pharmacy aisle of your local supermarket and you’re bound to see containers full of fish oil in all its forms—pills, gummies, capsules, and more. You might feel tempted to toss a bottle into your shopping cart to reap the potential benefits—fish oil may support your heart, brain, and skin health.

But does fish oil lower cholesterol? It depends on who you ask.

Some studies suggest that taking fish oil can lower your “bad” cholesterol (triglycerides and LDL) while increasing your levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. [1] However, others report that fish oil may increase your overall LDL levels, all while improving triglyceride and HDL levels. [2,3]

What does this mean for you, the cholesterol-conscious consumer? As you can imagine, there’s a lot more to it. Keep reading as we dive deeper into the fish oil facts.

What is fish oil?

As the name suggests, fish oil is a yellowish oil that comes from the tissues of naturally oily fish or fatty fish. Almost every variety of fish contains fish oil in its tissues, but some of the best sources include:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Anchovies
  • Halibut
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Tuna

Other sources of fish oil include cod liver, oysters, krill, and caviar (also called roe).

The most direct way to intake fish oil is eating fish from the list above. However, fish oil is also available as a supplement in pill, gummy, or liquid form. When manufacturers process oily fish for consumption, they can isolate and collect the oils for use in fish oil capsules.

How does fish oil affect cholesterol levels?

The active ingredients in fish oil are known as omega 3 fatty acids. Specifically, there are two types of omega-3s present in fish oil [4]:

  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

Some fish oil supplements include both omega-3 fatty acid types, while others isolate one or the other.

Are you familiar with the difference between LDL vs. HDL cholesterol? While DHA and EPA are both omega-3s, they have different effects on cholesterol levels. To that end, a study from Current Atherosclerosis Reports suggests the following:

  • DHA and EPA can both reduce “bad” triglycerides
  • DHA can raise levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, while EPA may not
  • DHA can raise levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, while EPA may not

The bottom line: Does fish oil improve cholesterol levels?

Overall, fish oil can have a largely positive impact on cholesterol. Several studies have demonstrated that fish oil—both in fresh and supplement forms—can lower your triglycerides while increasing your “good” cholesterol numbers (HDL).,

While increased LDL levels are also possible after ingesting fish oil, the overall benefits of fish oil are hard to ignore. That said, the best results seem to come from fish oil supplements that contain DHA and EPA. Knowing what are good cholesterol numbers and how to test cholesterol at home can help track how these supplements can aid in controlling your numbers.

The pros and cons of fish oil

Before you rush out and buy fish oil pills by the case, let’s take a comprehensive look at fish oil’s advantages and its potential downsides.

Fish oil benefits

Along with its reported cholesterol-supporting effects, fish oil has a handful of other potential benefits, including:

  • Reducing soreness and stiffness related to rheumatoid arthritis [4]
  • Improving brain health
  • Aiding heart health
  • Reducing inflammation in the skin
  • Supporting fetal growth and brain development during pregnancy

Fans of fish oil also claim that omega 3 fatty acids may improve eye health, depression, Alzheimer’s, and other conditions. However, studies testing these claims are still ongoing, so it’s hard to say with definitive proof that fish oil can solve all of these health problems. [5]

Fish oil drawbacks

Some fish oil users report fishy burps, which are exactly what they sound like. You’ll often see fish oil pills and capsules marketed as “fishy burp-free.” This label is not a marketing gimmick—modern fish oil refining technologies have made it possible to remove most of the fishy taste in pills and capsules.

Are there any risks to taking fish oil?

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, omega-3 supplements (and fish oil pills in general) pose little or no risk. [5] When side effects are involved, they’re generally mild. Possible minor side effects include:

  • Headaches
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Odorous breath and sweat

Additionally, omega-3 supplements like fish oil pills may interact with blood clotting medications. [5] If you take other medications, speak with your healthcare provider before using fish oil supplements.

Finally, as mentioned, there’s some evidence that fish oil can increase your “bad” cholesterol levels (LDL), all while improving triglyceride and “good” HDL levels. That said, if your current LDL levels are exceptionally high, you may want to weigh your options with your healthcare provider before adding fish oil to your diet.

Watch your cholesterol from home

Overall, increasing your consumption of omega-3s with daily fish oil supplementation may help to lower your cholesterol level as well as support joint stiffness, brain and heart wellness, and healthy skin.

At Everlywell, we deliver Omega-3 Fish Oil softgels made with esterified omega-3 fish oil and vitamin E right to your door.

Additionally, you can take an Everlywell Cholesterol & Lipids Test from the comfort of your home to check in on LDL and HDL cholesterol levels as well as triglycerides. In a few days, our easy-to-read results will give you a complete picture of your current total cholesterol numbers.

With Everlywell, you can take a comfortable and comprehensive approach to your wellness—no trip to the supermarket required.

How much omega-3 per day should someone get?

What are good cholesterol numbers?

LDL vs. HDL cholesterol: what you need to know

How to test cholesterol at home?


  1. Effects of 12-week supplementation of marine Omega-3 PUFA-based formulation Omega3Q10 in older adults with prehypertension and/or elevated blood cholesterol. Lipids in Health and Disease. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  2. An Improvement of Cardiovascular Risk Factors by Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids. Journal of Clinical Medicine Research. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  3. Comparison of the effect of omega-3 supplements and fresh fish on lipid profile: a randomized, open-labeled trial. Nutrition and Diabetes. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  4. Fish oil. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  5. Omega-3 Supplements: In-Depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  6. Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid versus docosahexaenoic acid on serum lipids: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Current Atherosclerosis Reports. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
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