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Fish oil...it might be just a fish story

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Riley, a Facebook friend from Thomson, GA, asks “Should I take fish oil pills or not?”

Here is your answer, Riley: ”yes and no.” If you are a normal, healthy person and think that fish oil pills will increase your “wellness” or prevent a heart attack or stroke, then the answer is, “no, it probably won’t.” If, however, you are a highrisk heart attack patient, who has already had one cardiovascular event because of your high blood fat (triglycerides) levels, then the answer is, “yes, you should

take your fish oil pills.” However, in this latter case, the fish oil pill needs to be prescribed by your physician and will be a specific type of fish oil, not simply any offthe-shelf product.

There is a big difference between merely deciding on your own to buy a commercially available, much-advertised and marketed, “fish oil pill” compared to having a specific disease or condition and being prescribed a fish oil pill by your physician. In fact, I would say that you should never take fish oil supplements without speaking with your health care provider, first. This is

because fish oil has many different effects on your body. One of these effects is decreasing the time it takes for your blood to clot. People who take self-prescribed fish oil pills, in addition to taking other supplements, such as a baby aspirin or Vitamin E, can get into serious trouble. All three — fish oil, aspirin and Vitamin E — slow down the ability of your blood to clot. Taking two or three of these pills together can cause prolonged bleeding and big problems. So don’t do it without speaking to your physician. Just because a supplement is available “off-the-shelf” in your local store doesn’t mean it is

automatically safe to take.

Have you noticed that within the last month or so there has been a lot on TV, radio and written media about fish oil? This is because last month the latest scientific findings on fish oil were published at the American Heart Association annual meeting.

What the data shows is that for most normal, healthy people, spending your food dollar buying fish is a much better alternative than buying pills. However, for people who have already had a heart attack, taking a fish oil pill can have a large and very significant effect on lowering the chance of a second heart attack. This is especially true for people with a specific medical condition known as hypertriglyceridemia. If you have been diagnosed with hypertriglyceridemia, this can and should be treated by

your physician. When you take food or food supplements for medical reasons, they act as drugs rather than nutrients. They can have many different effects on your body compared to when you simply eat the food. In addition, a food supplement such as fish oil, when prescribed by a physician, usually contains a specific component molecule of known medical efficacy, not just a poorly-defined mix of molecules. So, for example, the fish oil usually prescribed for high triglycerides is high in EPA, or eicosapaentanoic acid, not just the usual mix found in most common overthe-counter fish oil pills.

What is the “no-nonsense” nutrition advice for today? It’s simple. If you are a normal, healthy person, use the money it costs to buy a bottle of fish oil pills to buy some fish instead. Then, bake or broil the fish; don’t fry it. If, on the other hand, you have been medically prescribed a fish oil supplement to prevent a heart attack, either because you have already had a heart attack or because you are in a high-risk group, then take the specific pill prescribed by your physician. See how simple?

And finally, another piece of December advice: have a safe and happy holiday season and a very healthy New Year! +

Have a question about food, diet or nutrition? Post or private message your question on Facebook (www.Facebook.com/AskDrKarp) or email your question to askdrkarp@gmail.com If your question is chosen for a column, your name will be changed, to insure your privacy. Warren B. Karp, Ph.D., D.M.D. is Professor Emeritus at Augusta University. He has served as Director of the Nutrition Consult Service at The Dental College of Georgia and is past Vice Chair of the Columbia County Board of Health. You can find out more about Dr. Karp and the download site for the public domain eBook, Nutrition for Smarties, at www.wbkarp.com Dr. Karp obtains no funding for writing his columns, articles or books and has no financial or other interests in any food, book, nutrition product or company. His interest is only in providing freely-available, evidenced-based, scientific nutrition knowledge and education. The information is for educational use only; it is not meant to be used to diagnose, manage or treat any patient or client. Although Dr. Karp is a Professor Emeritus at Augusta University, the views and opinions expressed here are his and his alone and do not reflect the views and opinions of Augusta University or anyone else.


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