• Lori Turner

Fishy Side Effects

Fishy Side Effects by Lori Turner

Commercials on TV about prescription drugs don’t sound very entertaining, but my family and I enjoy watching them. It’s not about the drug; It’s all about the side effects that must be disclosed and stated at the end of every commercial. We have a family competition of who can make up the worst side effect that makes us all laugh. Some of our snarky creations include “Side effects include possibly going blind, going bald, ears falling off, unusual body odors, or if bleeding out, stop taking this drug immediately!” My husband comes up with the most disgusting ones and is always the winner of this ridiculous competition. Admittingly this is a very unusual way to spend an evening as a family, but it makes us ignore all of the other commercials while waiting for our favorite show to start. Jokes aside, some of these prescription drugs have some serious side effects, and watching the actors with half-smiles and while listening to the silly background music makes me wonder if it is just a gimmick to get you to accept a prescription that may possibly harm you. One night as we watched TV, a new commercial presented itself and my husband and I were ready to pounce to see who could create the most cringe-worthy side effect. If you want to win the competition, you have to listen intently, especially at the end where the narrator softly mentions the side effects. When they speak fast you can easily miss a juicy detail. The new commercial was about Vescepa, a fish oil prescription drug created to treat people with high triglycerides (high concentration of fat in the blood). This commercial annoyed me and my husband could see I was not happy. The commercial suggested the natural supplement of fish oil that has been around for several years was bad for you because it is not pure and is brown in color; As if overly- processed and clear is any better? In my opinion, the commercial attacked everything good about the supplement. I believe a healthy diet, exercise, and supplements can keep you away from doctors and hospitals. Before taking any type of prescription drug, one should always do extensive research and make sure it isn’t going to cause harm. After watching Vascepa’s commercial, I felt it was just another way to debunk something you could just buy over the counter. After doing some research on fish oil and Omega-3 fatty acids to prove it is just as good as prescriptions, something surprising happened. I began to doubt if any of the health claims for either had validity.

Fish oil has been around since the Viking Era in Scandinavia, as early as 700-1100 AD. Their diet consisted of codfish and the livers because it was abundant during the winter months. Whenever I think of the Vikings, balmy weather sitting on a warm beach eating fish sticks doesn’t come to mind. Winter must have been brutal and long back then. Processing the oil took several steps and was a laborious process. If you haven’t heard of cod liver oil… well, now you have! https://evclo.com/history/

The ancient Roman’s also processed fish in ways to make oil from fermented fish guts and other sea creatures. The fish guts and parts were used to make a flavored salty fish sauce by the name of Garum. The process included leaving the remainder of the fish in a vat that was placed out in the sun for several weeks until the fermentation was complete. Once the process was done, a hearty, paste-like fish oil of Garum was on every Roman’s table like a bottle ketchup at your favorite burger joint. Yuck!

Modern Omega-3’s fatty acids have 3 components: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are found in fish, while most ALA’s are found in plants such as flaxseed and soybeans. These acids have many claims, but the most we are familiar with is how it supports blood and heart health. Scientists have been studying Omega-3s for a long time, but the most respected and accurate of all scientific studies is a double-blind study. A double-blind method is designed to reduce a biased opinion of the observer to fully understand the efficiency of a drug. For example, when a promising new drug is approved for human testing, a group of individuals volunteers to take the experimental drug. Several people either receive the real drug, or are given a placebo. None of the participants know who gets which one, but each has to tediously report on how they feel and what possible side effects they may have. If the outcomes are similar or totally off, the drug could possibly be ineffective and will be sent back for re-formulation, or be rejected altogether. Some of these double-blind studies are done repeatedly or can take months, and even years, until the health claims can be supported with scientific data. In all of the health claims and research, I found in regards to Omega-3’s, there was only one double-blind study that was conducted for eight weeks. Hmm? Was this long enough to take seriously?

I have always been skeptical of prescription drugs and prefer to take a natural approach to health. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is one of my resources to stay informed. A shocking discovery about fish oils and other vitamins was that if there are consistent public health claims, any food manufacturer or pharmaceutical company can petition the FDA to come out with a statement backing it up. Did I read that correctly? “Petition” the FDA with any health claim? What if the claim was just made up by some dude doing yoga in the park?

Amarin Corporation is a rapidly-growing pharmaceutical company whose focus is developing prescriptions to improve cardiovascular health. Amarin manufactures Vascepa and petitioned the FDA in 2019 to make a statement of support of the prescription’s lower triglycerides and all the associated health claims. Luckily, the FDA is taking a closer look at Vascepa, but this doesn’t give me confidence that fish oil is helping cardiovascular health any more than a healthy diet and exercise. Another red flag about Vascepa is that Amarin doesn’t disclose what type of fish it uses or how it is processed. Are we left to wonder if there are vats of fish guts sitting out in the sun on a loading dock somewhere? https://www.fiercepharma.com/pharma/what-a-buzzkill-amarin-s-vascepa-faces-fda-adcom-for-cardiovascular-benefits-labe

The science behind the benefits of fish oil is limited. I consistently found in my research the oil alone does not reduce high triglycerides. A lifestyle change of healthy eating and exercise is essential in blood and heart health. Unfortunately, I find many people are looking for the “magic” pill to solve all of their problems, sometimes missing the extra information that is cleverly hidden in fast narration or tiny print. Vascepa is not a bargain with insurance either. I can only hope that it does everything it claims to do, and that people take the time to do some research. They say myths and legends are born out of fictitious vivid imaginations to explain the unexplainable. Maybe the guy doing yoga in the park is onto something, or I should just go back to doing my most disgusting side effect game, but I do know this: Do your homework on anything you put in your body!