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Is Your Fish Oil Worthless?

Is Your Fish Oil Worthless?
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Of course not, but that doesn’t stop the pharma-backed hit pieces from attacking this critical supplement. Action Alert!

Did you know that one person dies every 33 seconds from cardiovascular disease? It is a public health outrage that such a preventable disease is the leading cause of death in the US, but rather than help people manage these risks with common-sense supplements, the authors of a new study think you should throw away your fish oil. Huh?

A recent study published in JAMA Cardiology thinks you’re being duped: Most fish oil supplements don’t deliver the health benefits they promise! If this sounds outrageous, that’s because it is. Like many of the other supplement hit pieces we’ve rebutted over the years, this one claiming that most fish oils are worthless is wrong, wrong, wrong. Once again, pharmaceutical interests seem to be behind these attacks, probably in an effort to drive sales of Vascepa, the FDA-approved fish oil drug.

The authors looked at nearly 3,000 fish oil supplements and found that a high proportion of these products were using structure/function claims to communicate the health benefits of supplementing with fish oil, including benefits for the heart, brain, and joints. The “problem,” according to the authors, is that many of these benefits are not backed up by the results of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Some RCTs do support the heart protective effects of fish oil, the study continues, but only at higher doses and with some caveats; the authors suggest that consumers taking lower-dose fish oil are effectively being misled about the heart-protective effects of those products.

First, we should mention the substantial conflicts of interest reported by the authors. Eric Pederson, MD and Ann Marie Navar, MD reported financial ties to a laundry list of pharmaceutical companies including Novo Nordisk, Janssen, Esperion, Amgen, Novartis, AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, Eli Lilly, Merck, Pfizer, and Bayer. These physicians are clearly on the take from Big Pharma, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising that they’ve set out to undermine consumer confidence in dietary supplements, which compete with pharmaceutical drugs.

Now, to the “heart” of their claims. The main point of contention seems to be that many fish oil supplements do not deliver a high enough dose (between 2g and 4g per day of EPA and DHA; 4g is the dose in Vascepa) to improve heart health. Yet a meta-analysis of 40 studies published in 2020 found that fish oil supplementation was associated with a 10 percent reduced risk of experiencing a coronary heart disease (CHD) event, with an average dose of about 1.2 g/day of omega-3 EPA and DHA.

To recap: heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. Fish oil supplements have been found to reduce CHD events by 10 percent. Yet instead of encouraging Americans to take fish oil, the authors of this study think it’s necessary to undermine your confidence in the benefits of these supplements, presumably so you spend your money on Vascepa, which costs an average of $461.78 per month.

The other point made by the authors of this study is that no RCTs back up the claims that fish oil can help with brain or joint health. This is a common refrain from supplement critics. “Where are the RCTs?” Not only are clinical trials often inappropriate for studying nutrients, they are way too expensive for most dietary supplement companies. More than that, any dietary supplement that managed to demonstrate a therapeutic effect for its product would find it in the cross-hairs of the FDA which will claim it’s an unlicensed drug. This arrangement works very well to prevent competition from dietary supplement companies and protect the Big Pharma business model.

The insistence on RCTs for supplement claims is also why the new policy from the FTC we’ve been reporting on is so problematic. The FTC is trying to require as many as two clinical trials to back up supplement marketing claims, which we’ve argued is a backdoor ban on most claims.

The authors have it backwards. The problem is not that consumers are being misled about the benefits of supplements because companies can say too much; the real problem is that we’re facing a government-led campaign to conceal the remarkable truth about the healing and disease-preventing powers of foods and nutrients. Until we can openly and truthfully communicate about the power of supplements to help us attain optimal health, we will continue to succumb in horrifying numbers to preventable diseases – like heart disease, still the leading cause of death for Americans.

Action Alert! Write to Congress, telling them to stop the FTC’s censorship campaign and to support the free flow of information about supplements. Please send your message immediately.

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