Growing evidence indicates that many Americans’ diets are calorie-rich but nutrient-poor.
Still, when it comes to intake of micronutrients – vitamins and minerals – more is not always better once you’re getting enough to enable optimal health.
Accordingly, when the U.S. Institute of Medicine sets the minimum intake level for a vitamin or mineral – called the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) – it also sets a maximum intake, called the Tolerable Upper Intake Limit or UL.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) defines a nutrient’s UL as “… the highest level of daily nutrient intake that is likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects to almost all individuals in the general population”, when used indefinitely without medical supervision.
As you’d expect, the UL for a nutrient doesn’t apply to people who are taking it under medical supervision, or to those with a medical contraindication that dictates a lower intake level.
To date, the IOM hasn’t set an upper limit for daily consumption of omega-3s from fish (EPA and DHA).
Filling that gap, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended taking no more than three grams (3,000mg) of omega-3 EPA + DHA per day.
Generally speaking, its counterpart within the European Union (EU) – the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) – is much tougher on health and safety claims for dietary supplements.
So it comes as a bit of a surprise that the EFSA now endorses the safety of omega-3 intake levels well above those advised by the FDA and the American Heart Association.
European agency endorses safety of high omega-3 intakes from supplements
Risk of excessive blood thinning and impaired blood sugar regulation or immune function are sometimes attributed (without evidence) to intakes of omega-3s above three to four grams per day.
But in a study released last week, the European agency’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) found no evidence of harm to adults who consume up to five grams (5,000mg) of omega-3 EPA+DHA per day (NDA 2012).
Specifically, the EFSA’s expert panel found that taking up to five grams of supplemental omega-3s a day does not increase the risk of adverse effects.
Addressing each of the two main omega-3s in fish fat (EPA and DHA), the panel found that:
Adults and children safely take up to about one gram of supplemental DHA per day.
Adults can safely take up to 1.8 grams of supplemental EPA per day (upper EPA intake limits for children were not addressed)
The EFSA panel’s recommended maximum daily intake limit is five to 20 times higher than the minimum daily intakes recommended by various world health authorities, which range from 250mg to 1,000mg (one gram).
To view the daily omega-3 intakes recommended by U.S. and international health authorities – and to learn the omega-3 levels in Vital Choice seafood and supplements – see “How much omega-3 EPA and DHA do you need?” and “Omega-3s in Vital Choice seafood and supplements” – on our Omega-3 Facts & Sources page.
How much omega-3 do people get … and how much is needed?
The NDA Panel noted that in EU populations, omega-3 intakes from seafood and supplements average well below five grams a day.
The panel added that European adults average up to 400-500mg of omega-3s daily from food, while European children consume up to about 320mg a day.
Among European consumers with the highest intakes of omega-3s from fish and/or fish oil supplements, the levels can rise to 2,700mg a day for adults and 1,700mg a day for children.
Worse, the average American consumes only 28-40mg of EPA (average 34mg) and 39-75mg of DHA daily (average 57mg).
In fact, only 25 percent of the U.S. population consumes any omega-3 EPA or DHA, according to evidence collected in the U.S. Continuing Food Survey of Intakes by Individuals 1994-98 (CSFII) and the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES III) 1988-94.
The EFSA’s NDA Panel concluded that omega-3 (EPA + DHA) intakes between two and four grams a day are needed to maintain healthy blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
With regard to minimum omega-3 intakes, the panel stuck with the EFSA’s prior recommendation that 250mg to 500mg of EPA+DHA a day is “sufficient for the maintenance of normal cardiac function”. (EFSA 2012)
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). EFSA assesses safety of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. July 27, 2012. Accessed at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/120727.htm
EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA). Scientific Opinion on the Tolerable Upper Intake Level of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). EFSA Journal 2012;10(7):2815. Accessed at