You might have heard of Omega-3’s before; they are considered to be a ‘good fat’ and are often referred to as an essential fatty acid. In this context, essential means that although we require them for good health, our bodies don’t make Omega-3’s and we can only get them through our diet. Amongst other things, Omega-3’s are involved in reducing inflammation, like the prostaglandins produced during your period.

There are three types of Omega-3’s; EPA and DHA which are most commonly found in high amounts in fish, especially oily fish like mackerel, salmon and sardines, as well as plant-based marine algae, and ALA which is found in plant-based sources such as walnuts, flaxseeds and their oils, and chia seeds. Research has shown Omega-3 helps reduce period pain quite significantly. You can get Omega-3 into your diet by either regularly adding foods rich in Omega-3’s to your diet, or taking a supplement.


Fish and Fish Oil Supplements

If you’re getting your Omega-3’s from EPA and DHA then you only need a small amount to make a difference to your period pain. If you include a 100gm serving of oily fish like mackerel, salmon, or sardines in your diet two to three times per week you can easily meet the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for Omega-3’s. Another benefit from eating these fish is that they are high in other nutrients such as protein, vitamin D, B vitamins, zinc and selenium.

For people who don’t like eating fish, extensive research has shown that taking a single 1000mg fish oil capsule, containing 180mgs EPA and 120mgs DHA, every day offers a lot of the same nutritional benefits and significantly helps reduce period pain. For many people, regularly taking a fish oil capsule is just as effective, if not more, than taking an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory ‘painkiller’ such as ibuprofen.

Because Omega-3’s from fish oil supplements can be really effective in reducing period pain, it might be tempting to think that taking larger doses is better, or reduces your period pain even more, but research has shown that this isn’t the case, a regular daily 1000mg dose is the most effective, so there’s no need to overdo it. Like all supplements, fish oil capsules vary in their amounts and types of Omega-3’s, as well as their recommended serving size, so be sure to check the label!

Recommended dosage for relieving period pain:

100gm serving of oily fish like mackerel, salmon, or sardines in your diet two to three times per week


One daily 1000mg capsule (containing 180mgs EPA and 120mgs DHA)

Safety issues:

Consuming very large amounts of fish from dietary sources can be unsafe due to pollution in our oceans contaminating the food supply. Oily fish can contain toxins such as mercury. If you like to regularly eat fish, stay within the recommended guidelines and talk to your healthcare provider.

If you are taking any other medication you should check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before taking fish oil as there are some combinations that don’t interact well together, for example drugs that reduce blood pressure, slow blood clotting and some immunosuppressant’s. Additionally, if you are using contraceptive drugs or medication for your mental health like anti-depressants or mood stabilisers you should talk to your healthcare provider before taking supplements. Although low, regular doses of fish oil are considered safe, higher doses can increase the risk of bruising or bleeding. Some other side effects can include an upset tummy or heartburn.

Plant-Based Marine Oil Supplements

If you don’t eat fish, can’t tolerate fish oil, or are vegan or vegetarian, plant-based marine oil supplements can provide a great alternative source of EPA and DHA Omega-3’s. Plant-based marine oil supplements are made from marine algae, which is what marine life eat and where all fish actually get their Omega-3’s from. Studies so far suggest that the health benefits are comparable to that of fish oil-based EPA and DHA sources. They also have another unexpected benefit in that they are more environmentally sustainable because their production doesn’t contribute to overfishing.

Like fish oil supplements, those made from plant-based marine oil can vary in the amounts and types of Omega-3’s they contain. You still want to be taking a supplement containing at least 180mgs EPA and 120mgs DHA every day for it to be effective at reducing period pain, so check the labels of a few different brands before you buy.

Recommended dosage for relieving period pain:

A daily dose containing at least 180mgs EPA and 120mgs DHA

Safety issues:

If you are taking any other medication you should check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before taking plant-based marine oil supplements. There is not as much research on the possible side effects of this supplement but it should be treated in a similar way to fish oil, as it has the same active ingredients.

Plant-Based ALA-Rich Foods and Supplements

The third main type of Omega-3’s is ALA, which is found in many plants and their oils. Foods that are rich in ALA include vegetable oils such as canola and soybean oils; seeds and nuts such as flaxseed, chia, hemp and walnuts; and green leafy vegetables like kale and brussel sprouts. ALA is not as effective an Omega-3 and must be converted to EPA and DHA in the body to get the same anti-inflammatory benefits. However, it’s not converted very efficiently, with only 5% of ALA converted to EPA, and less than 0.5% converted to DHA so you would need to include lots of ALA rich foods in your diet to get a good dose of Omega-3’s.

The food that is richest in ALA is flaxseed oil and there are many supplements available in capsule form if you want an easier way to up your intake. Whilst research shows that ALA has anti-inflammatory properties there isn’t any specific guidance on how much ALA you need to potentially reduce your period pain, so it’s a good idea to take the recommended dosage on the bottle and see if that helps.

Recommended dosage for relieving period pain:

There is no specific dose of ALA that has been clinically shown to reduce period pain.

Safety issues:

There are no known safety issues related to consuming ALA from food in normal amounts. However, many foods rich in ALA are also high in fat so should be consumed as part of a balanced diet.

If you are taking any other medication you should check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before taking flaxseed oil supplements. There are some medical conditions that can be complicated by taking this supplement, such as low blood sugar, low blood pressure or a bleeding disorder. Additionally, some research suggests that flaxseeds should only be consumed in small doses if pregnant and flaxseed oil should be avoided completely.