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Does fish oil cause blood thinning?

Posted Oct 26 2009 11:00pm
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil have the capacity to "thin the blood." In reality, omega-3s exert a mild platelet-blocking effect (platelet activation and "clumping" are part of clot formation), while also inhibiting arachidonic acid formation and thromboxane.

But can fish oil cause excessive bleeding?

This question comes up frequently in the office, particularly when my colleagues see the doses of fish oil we use for cardiovascular protection. "Why so much fish oil? That's too much blood thinning!"

The most recent addition to the conversation comes from a Philadelphia experience reported in the American Journal of Cardiology:

Comparison of bleeding complications with omega-3 fatty acids + aspirin + clopidogrel--versus--aspirin + clopidogrel in patients with cardiovascular disease.(Watson et al; Am J Cardiol 2009 Oct 15;104(8):1052-4).

All 364 subjects in the study took aspirin and Plavix (a platelet-inhibiting drug), mostly for coronary disease. Mean dose aspirin = 161 mg/day; mean dose Plavix = 75 mg/day. 182 of the subjects were also taking fish oil, mean dose 3000 mg with unspecified omega-3 content.

During nearly 3 years of observation, there was no excess of bleeding events in the group taking fish oil. (In fact, the group not taking fish oil had more bleeding events, though the difference fell short of achieving statistical significance.) Thus, 3000 mg per day of fish oil appeared to exert no observable increase in risk for bleeding. This is consistent with several other studies, including that including Coumadin (warfarin), with no increased bleeding risk when fish oil is added.

Rather than causing blood thinning, I prefer to think that omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil restore protection from abnormal clotting. Taking omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil simply restores a normal level of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood sufficient to strike a healthy balance between blood "thinning" and healthy blood clotting.
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