March 2013

Fish Oil May Stimulate Appetite

Fish oil supplementation may help increase appetite in healthy people, according to a recent study.

Fish oil and certain plant and nut oils are dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil contains both docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). There is supportive evidence from multiple studies that suggests that the intake of recommended amounts of DHA and EPA in the form of dietary fish or fish oil supplements lowers triglycerides; reduces the risk of death, heart attack, dangerous abnormal heart rhythms, and strokes in people with known cardiovascular disease; slows the buildup of atherosclerotic plaques ("hardening of the arteries"), and lowers blood pressure slightly.

In the current study, researchers set out to determine whether fish oil may impact appetite in healthy people. They enrolled 20 normal-weight men and women in the trial. All participants were given 10 fish oil capsules daily for three weeks. After a week-long wash-out period, all participants took 10 capsules of soybean oil for three weeks. At the end of each period of supplementation, researchers assessed the subjects' appetite, taking gender into consideration.

Effects on pre-breakfast appetite were lacking between the fish oil supplement and the soybean supplement. However, subjects reported that the feeling of fullness after eating was lower after the fish oil period. The desire to eat more also increased in the female participants only after fish oil supplementation.

The researchers concluded that fish oil may increase appetite, and that this finding may benefit people who have poor nutritional status in terms of nutrient levels and intake. However, more study is needed before firm conclusions can be made.

Many other integrative therapies have been studied for use in stimulating appetite. Devil's claw, for example, is an African plant that has been used for joint paint, fever, and malaria, and is popularly used to increase appetite. N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), which is made from the amino acid L-cysteine, has been studied for the improvement of appetite in people who have anorexia due to exposure to high altitudes. Zinc, an essential nutrient, has been reported in early studies to improve appetite in HIV-infected children when used as supplementation with other nutrients. However, evidence for the use of these integrative therapies for appetite stimulation is conflicting. More research is needed before firm conclusions can be made on their effectiveness for this purpose.

For more information about fish oil, please visit Natural Standard's Foods, Herbs & Supplements database.


  1. Damsbo-Svendsen S, Rønsholdt MD, Lauritzen L. Fish oil-supplementation increases appetite in healthy adults. A randomized controlled cross-over trial. Appetite. 2013 Mar 6. pii: S0195-6663(13)00085-8. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2013.02.019. [Epub ahead of print] 
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 

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