nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Claims For Healthful Benefits Of Fish Oil Supplements. UPDATE

As for many supplements, you can find lists of great things fish oil is supposed to do for you.  Almost none of them have been confirmed.

UPDATE:  I screwed up the math.  Corrected below.

I took fish oil for a while.   Some doctors recommend it for lowering triglycerides (part of the lipids in the blood, like cholesterol).  My personal experience is that it was mildly effective, but it also raised (mildly) the level of the "bad" cholesterol (LDL).  Six of one, half a dozen of the other; there was no benefit.

A new study looking at fish oil--containing the omega 3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)--for it's alleged benefit in preventing the progression of Alzheimer's disease got me to looking into just how many things this yucky stuff is supposed to cure.

[And, by the way, the study was fairly good, and showed no benefit...with one caveat, below.  See the free article in the Journal of the AMA, Nov 3]

If you get your expert advice from the internet, here's what fish oil is supposed to do:

- lowers blood triglyceride levels

- reduces the risk of heart attack
- reduces the risk of dangerous abnormal heart rhythms
- reduces the risk of strokes
- slows the buildup of atherosclerotic plaques
- lowers blood pressure
- reduces stiffness and joint tenderness associated with Rheumatoid arthritis

I'm not aware that any of this has been confirmed by reputable studies.

Given that there's no evidence, here's a sample calculation of the cost of self-treatment:

--For an average dose of three capsules a day, containing on avg about 650 mg of EPA and 450 mg of DHA (each), taken for 365 days.
--With a purchase price of $41.81 for 120 capsules--40 days worth (I used Nordic Naturals Ultimate, at Amazon, for pricing).

[Note that taking this for a few months is basically worthless.  It's a lifelong habit we're talking about]

Your annual cost for a placebo-effect benefit will be $381.52.

One final caveat.   The study referenced above wasn't powerful enough to be break out subgroups of people who had genetic hyperlipidemia risk (the APOE variants).  There was a suggestion that one variant might minimally slow cognitive decline in Alzheimer's, but this may be an random finding and needs focused research.

Make your own choice.  People need beliefs, no matter what the evidence for them.  Unless something dramatic comes up from the science, I'm giving it a pass.

Doc D

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