The Nation's Health + [Omega-3 fatty acids]

Omega-3 fatty acids: But fish oil is too drastic!

Ted is a 74-year old physician, still conducting a busy practice. He came to me because of some vague fatigue and breathlessness. He also got himself a CT heart scan. His score: 1277.

When he came to my office, he clearly became breathless with just minimal effort. A stress test confirmed an area of much reduced blood flow to the front of his heart muscle. A heart catheterization identified a severe blockage of 95% in the left anterior descending artery and a stent was inserted. This resulted in relief of Ted's symptoms.

When Ted returned to the office after his discharge from the hospital, I advised him that some major changes in his prevention program were overdue. "After all, Ted, you were lucky this time. You were provided some warning. It doesn't always work that way." So I advised Ted to make a number of changes in his diet (he was following an old-fashioned, and quite self-destructive, low-fat diet), have lipoproteins assessed to identify hidden causes of coronary plaque, and take fish oil.

"Fish oil? I don't think so. That's pretty drastic!" he exclaimed. He felt that all the nutrition he needed was contained in the food he ate. Even after several lipoprotein abnormalities were uncovered like small LDL and excessive after-eating (post-prandial) patterns, he still resisted any changes. "I'm going to just wait and see how I feel. But I will take aspirin."

Such is the state of mind of the older physician: procedures are okay, low-fat diets prevent heart disease, and the Beatles are touring America. But fish oil? No way!

Unfortunately, Ted's attitude encapsulates the attitudes of many of my medical colleagues who don't share the excuse of age. They still practice the woefully outdated ways of physicians like Ted, clinging to notions of "balanced diets", nitroglycerin representing a rational treatment for coronary disease, and adequate rest being curative for heart conditions.

The world is changing. We're entering an exciting age of self-empowerment. The ridiculous notions of health practiced in the last half of the 20th century are withering and dying. Poor Ted. He must view the current healthcare landscape as increasingly incomprehensible to a guy who started out delivering babies at home. Perhaps, in some respects his world was better. But, in coronary disease prevention, attitudes like this need to go the way of steam engines and racial segregation--good riddens!