Omega-3, my curse or linchpin?

fish-oil-side-effect[F]ish oil has been a problem for me over the past five years or so. Actually, it’s not really fish oil but omega-3 essential fatty acids from any source. Omega-3s in relatively low quantities (as in eating a small piece of salmon three days in a row) have given me many nights of insomnia. So when I started reading Dr. Cutler’s AI, I laughed when I saw his recommendation for 15 to 50 g of flax oil or 2 to 6 g of fish oil per day — impossible for me.

When I started blogging here, my friend Viking mentioned that I needed to get my omega-3 supplementation way up and suggested I try methylation as a possible fix. I’ve done that and have been making steady progress. Also increased my vitamin B1 supplementation thinking this could be another fix based on Dr. Cutler’s notes in AI. Yesterday, however, I had a real brainstorm about omega-3’s.

I was in the process of making notes on my supplementation list about the benefits of each supplement I take and adding reference links. I got started on this when Tara asked me what the importance of fish oil was. Since I didn’t have a quick answer, I thought I should have notes handy to remind me why I take each supplement. Here’s what I found about omega-3’s:

  1. Dr. Cutler says mercury destroys EFAs
  2. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, are a key component of cellular membranes and brain tissue.
  3. Any factors that affect the mitochondrial membrane can severely impact the body’s ability to to produce energy.
  4. With insufficient intake of EFAs, our cellular membranes may experience inflammation and a loss of permeability essential to cellular and mitochondrial functioning.
  5. When mitochondrial membranes are less permeable, the requisite nutrients required to produce ATP are not available quickly enough, and the body is not able to produce energy efficiently. Red blood cells are not able to oxygenate efficiently either, nor to deliver their payload of oxygen to the cells.

After reading this, I started to think about my insomnia episodes with omega-3. There’s a curious fact that I never paid too much attention to which now seems critical to me. Frequently my omega-3 insomnia has been preceded by increasing energy over a couple days. So for example, I eat some salmon on Monday. I repeat again on Tuesday and noticed that my energy level is a little higher and my mental clarity a little better. On Wednesday, I eat salmon again and once again notice a little boost in energy level and mental clarity. That night, after eating salmon for three days in a row, the insomnia hits me.

This coincides perfectly with the mitochondrial membrane damage theory above. So I have a strong feeling that Viking was right – mercury related omega-3 deficiency is probably at the center of my nearly 30-year history of chronic fatigue. Now, if I can just break through the insomnia!

In reality, I think I’m well on my way. I’ve been increasing my fish oil consumption steadily and haven’t had any insomnia from it in months. I’m doing it slowly and nervously because the impact is so unpleasant when it happens.

The insomnia I get from omega-3 is very strange. My body is able to relax deeply and I’m even able to drift in and out of a very light sleep with the help of GABA. But, the sleep is not restorative at all. It feels like there is a light bulb lighting up a screen deep in my brain which will just not turn off. It takes a couple days of avoiding omega-3 for this to go away.

As I think about how to go forward, I’m reminded that many of the supplements that are currently giving me a boost are ones that came with startup reactions which faded with time. Should I push forward aggressively with higher quantities of fish oil or push forward moderately with more frequent small increases? I’m leaning towards the latter but if there were a holiday around the corner when I had fewer responsibilities I’d be tempted to try the aggressive path…

16 thoughts to “Omega-3, my curse or linchpin?”

  1. how is this going with the fish oil now? thanx to ur site i started taking more B12 methylcolbamine and boy it changed a lot i can’t believe it.

    i take a lot of supplements and have been taking fish oil for years and only recently it started giving me insomnia really bad. like making my head feel foggy and i couldn’t sleep no matter what.

    i used to take methylcolbamine shots about 2-3 years ago and probably my body ran out in the last year from storage. i’m wondering if thats why the fish oil started turning on me. i was taking about 3 strong pills a day for about 3 years.

    also coq10 causes me horrible insomnia the worst. i tried it again the other day cause again i used to take it like 50-100 mg a day and didn’t have a problem for a long time. i thought maybe cause i was low on b12 maybe thats why it turned on me and now that my b12 intake is up and most things seem to be working again that i should try again. BIG MISTAKE, huge insomnia super tired couldn’t sleep at all it was a nightmare.

    coq10 has a really long half life of minimum 36 hours so when i try it i know its not going to go away for a day and a half so its a huge risk and i should probably throw it out so i never experiment with it again. i only took 30 mg ubiquinone. any info on this?

    i started taking fish oil again today after a long break cause of the b12 but i’m only taking 1 a day and i’m really worried about the insomnia creeping up on me. i take it 2 tablespoons of lecithin and i have a theory that the lecithin helps the body absorb more cause they say the reason why krill oil works so well in small amounts is cause its bound to phospholipids.

    since lecithin is phospholipids then taking it with fish oil should magnify the intake and make 1 fish oil pill 3, just a theory.

    i also tried the ADB12 but it didn’t do anything for me so i’m probably suffieceint in it cause i eat a lot of meat and eggs. eggs r my favorite food there so versitile and delicious i’m gonna make some soon.

    anyway very curious how this fish oil thing has gone for u with the insomnia cause insomnia is my worst problem in the world i hate it and i love sleep.

    1. I don’t seem to have any sensitivity anymore to fish oil or Omega three! I also don’t believe the large quantities of fish oil that I was taking were helping so I have cut back to six of the 1 g Nordic naturals per day:) saving some money anyway… I imagine it is the methylation support that solved the problem.

  2. I think you are way off base here.  Your omega 3 insomnia issues could stem from its inhibition of Arachidonic Acid.  Prostaglandins, which are metabolites of Arachidonic Acid, are needed for sleep.  You might look into getting a RBC fatty acid test if you haven’t done so yet.  Much better than guessing.

    1. I follow this thread with interest because I too experience insomnia from more than a tiny bit of fish oil.  
      If the theory about affecting prostaglandins is the reason, then I wonder why I also get insomnia from lecithin, or phosphatidylcholine.
      Elsewhere I just read that aspirin inhibits an enzyme to prevent the conversion of arachidonic acid to prostaglandins.  So if the reason fish oil causes insomnia is due to not enough prostaglandins, then taking aspirin would cause the same insomnia, I think.  Since I rarely take aspirin, I haven’t noticed this in myself; maybe I’ll try it to see what happens.

  3. Congrats on your increasing fish oil tolerance!  It’s good when your efforts pay off like that, instead of supplement intolerance again, and again, and again.  Good notes on the benefits of fish oil also.  Mercury destroying EFA’a alone, in my book, is reason enough for it’s use.  Did you find anything on mercury contamination in fish oil?  And do you worry about salmon at all?  I know tuna is far worse, and it could be my mercury worries at play, but I’m afraid to ever eat another piece of fish again! 

    I’m doing well with flax oil, so for now, I’m just going to leave well enough alone.  One bottle lasts me a month, and I keep it refrigerated so I haven’t had any trouble with it going bad.

    Your Omega 3 insomnia does seem to be of a different breed than what I’m used to.  Mine are always the same.  It’s a strong tired and wired feeling, my vision gets weird, I get stabbing pains in my head, my nose swells shut, and it’s always intense like that for 2-3 hours during the night and then I fall asleep.  I can usually tell it’s going to happen when I go to bed, because if I feel a bit wired before bedtime and then have trouble falling asleep, I know I’m reacting to something and that the insomnia’s going to hit around 3 am. 

    1. Thanks Tara! Your insomnia reaction sounds terrible. Reminds me a little bit of what happens when I take too much vitamin D because I also get that vision weirdness.

      I did research Mercury contamination of fish oil and found this guide helpful – check out the section on purity:

      After reading it, I felt comfortable that I’m safe with Nordic Naturals based on this: and I did decide to throw away the fish oil I was giving my wife and replace it with the same one I use.

      As for eating fish and seafood I’ve decided to continue eating it but very seldom. Once a week at the most and generally more like once every two weeks. Even shrimp has mercury although much less than fish:

  4. I think that you may be on to something here. I did read part of the long document that you linked to regarding mitochondria. Very informative and I will look at it more closely when I have the time. It would make a lot of sense that CFS is linked to some form of problem in the mitochondria and this could also explain start up reactions when you add any of the missing links.

    Your insomnia sounds different to anything that I have experienced but it could well be related to better energy production. My understanding is that in many cases the body adapts to chronic problems by various up and down regulations. As an example that I have some experience from and have read a lot on, when the nerves start transmitting signals of lower quality the CNS often up regulates the sensitivity to these signals. This means that you can still function but it also means that you can get some very strange sensations when the nerves start to heal, i.e. you then get a period of overload until the brain adapts to the new, healthy level of signals.  

    In your case, this could mean that your whole system is adapted to poorly functioning energy production and when something happens that makes the  mitochondria work better your “up regulated” brain gets hyper simulated in this strange fashion. All just guesses, of course!

    When it comes to Omega 3, it seems very clear to me that we all need it. It is present in many parts of the body (mainly the brain but also in several other locations) and we cannot make it ourselves from other fats. In my case, I think that it has helped in general but I also think that it was the main reason that one significant problem that I used to have for many years, recurrent strong depressions, have been 100% eliminated ever since I started fish oil. As we all know, it is difficult to pinpoint what supp gives what effect but in this case I feel fairly confident.

    When we chelate, my understanding is that we to some extent cause damage in the brain when the ALA pulls mercury out. Since the brain is largely made from Omega 3, it stands to reason that we then need it to heal. Because of this, I think that it may be dangerous to chelate without taking Omega 3.

    Finally, I have stayed on fish oil rather than flax oil for mainly two reasons:
    – Fish oil is here the equivalent of the active vitamins, i.e. it comes in the form that the body can use directly without any transformations. My personal view is that one should always go for the active form if possible.
    – Flax oil is very sensitive, i.e. it goes rancid very fast.

    1. “In your case, this could mean that your whole system is adapted to poorly functioning energy production and when something happens that makes the mitochondria work better your “up regulated” brain gets hyper stimulated in this strange fashion.”

      I think you’re spot on! We are talking about 30 years of adaptation. I increased my fish oil again today by 63 mg omega-3 and will try to do that increase every Friday. Have very high hopes for it:)

      Meanwhile, I’m rearranging my iodine schedule hoping it will help me sleep better. Was taking iodine in divided doses, 25 mg in the morning and evening. As I started moving my morning dose closer to my evening, I started getting headaches again from it. Am thinking that I still have a ways to go to be saturated and adapted. So, now thinking that when I’m able to take 50 mg all at once at bedtime, it may assist me with my fish oil challenge…

    2. Eric, I too have gotten insomnia from sudden increases in fish oil, and have gotten the same immediate insomnia from sudden increases in phosphatidylcholine (from lecithin, or from egg yolks, either form).  Both also cause me to get a “wired” type of hyperactivity during the following day.  I don’t have CFS, but have adrenal fatigue and many symptoms of some type of metals problem.  Very slow increases in doses of fish oil or phosphatidylcholine have allowed me to work up to a modest dose of them, but it begs the question of why. 

      I can’t find my notes on it right now (again), but have notes on some kind of explanation for the phosphatidylcholine causing these issues, although the source I got it from didn’t discuss fish oil/omega 3s.  Do you ever use lecithin or eat a decent size serving of egg yolks, and have you had this problem from these at all?

      1. Uncanny Mary! I also don’t tolerate choline/lecithin/eggs well. I discovered this when my doctor recommended phosphatidylcholine about five years ago. It was like drinking coffee – wired at first and then totally exhausted. I tried putting it on my skin but the effect was exactly the same. Then I just gave up and I have been careful not to eat too many eggs ever since because I noticed the effect is similar..

        Then I researched it, I discovered that choline stimulates the adrenal glands. Recently, I tried to find that same reference and was unable to. Just a few days ago I decided to try eating one egg every day and I did not have a problem (two eggs is probably around where my tolerance is). Would love to see it if you find any research on this.

        1. The wikipedia page on Choline says that it does 3 things: helps structural integrity for cell/mitochondrial membranes (?maybe like the fish oil role you noted?), helps acetylcholine synthesis, and is a major source of methyl groups.  When I figured out that choline makes me hyperactive (as does fish oil), I kept trying to research the acetylcholine function in the body to figure out why.  But when i tried a supplement called alpha-GPC, which is supposed to increase acetylcholine, I did not notice anything from it – no hyperness at all.

          So maybe choline makes some people hyperactive due to one of the other two paths instead.  Maybe like what you mentioned, about fish oil too quickly affecting mitochondrial membranes before the body can adjust, making the person hyperactive/have insomnia that night. (I hope I understood that correctly as what you meant Eric).  Choline, according to wikipedia, affects cell membranes…so too much of a good thing too fast perhaps, for some people.

          I just wanted to ask: have you noticed any insomnia if you suddenly increase your intake of methyl donors? I haven’t yet tried purposely increasing methyl donors by a large dose, and watching for hyperness/insomnia.  I guess to be an accurate test, the methyl donors used for this little test would have to be some that do not affect acetylcholine or cell membranes.

          1. hi Mary, I haven’t increased anything by large doses in a long time and I haven’t experienced any insomnia in a longtime also. recently, I doubled my ADB12 and slept lightly all night. But the next night I slept well, and my adjustment was complete after that. I suppose that when I started SAMe at 200 mg nd when I doubled my dose to 400 mg, that might count s a large increase, but I do it in the early morning, and haven’t experienced any insomnia.

            I increase my omega-3 every third day by anywhere from 60 to 100 mg and it’s going beautifully…

            1. Just found this webpage..I too get insomnia from tiny amounts of omega 3. I discovered that applying primrose oil topically helped but still sensitive to omega 3. Can you tell me what cured this reaction for you..I havent poked around your website yet. Also curious if your skin was super dry and thin from omega 3? Udo Erasmus (oil/fatty acid expert) had thin skin when he overdid omega 3’s.
              Thanks so much!!

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