The Nation's Health + power

Omega-3 fatty acids: A little bit of fish oil

The British National Health Service (NHS) has announced that, in light of the substantial data documenting that omega-3 fatty acid intake from fish reduces likelihood of cardiovascular events by around 40%, that Brits discharged from hospital following a heart attack should be "prescribed" 1000 mg of prescription fish oil per day.

Hardly a revolutionary concept. Part of the timidity of the British NHS seems to relate to the potential cost to the government, since apparently much of the cost will be borne by the government-subsidized health system.

But prescription fish oil? Why prescription fish oil? Prescription Omacor, one capsule per day, costs around $70 (U.S.) per month. If I go to Sam's Club the same quantity of omega-3 fatty acids (in three capsules) will cost around $2.50. That's less than 5% of the cost of the prescription form.

Omacor is clearly more concentrated. But is the prescription form better--more effective, more purified, less contaminated, etc.? I have seen no independent verification of this. Of course, manufacturers make all sorts of claims. The only independent, unbiased testing I'm aware of comes from organizations like Consumer Reports and Omacor has not been compared to non-prescription fish oil in any of their analyses. Head-to-head comparison of Omacor to nutritional supplement fish oil is unlikely to come from Solvay, the manufacturer of Omacor. Drug companies powerfully resist head-to-head comparisons, fearing it will not play out in their favor. Let the public remain ignorant and hope marketing conquers all.

Why would the NHS only recommend eating fish and prescription fish oil? I don't know, but it smells awfully fishy to me. As soon as an opportunity for profit is built into a treatment, all of a sudden it gains endorsement. Perhaps lobbying by those parties with potential for profit drove the process.

Nonetheless, despite the filthy politics and under-the-table dealings, some good comes out of the NHS's action: broader recognition of the power of fish oil. Perhaps when a British patient or an American patient gets discharged with a prescription for Omacor, the patient will take the initiative and go to the health food store instead and save him (or his insurer) $67.50 per month.

For your coronary plaque control program and control and/or reversal of your heart scan score, we start at 4000 mg per day of standard fish oil, providing 1200 mg per day of omega-3 oils. This amount as a nutritional supplement costs only a few dollars a month. And you have the satisfaction of not only taking a powerful step for your health, but also not enriching the overflowing pockets of drug companies.

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