A friend of mine was recently prescribed a fish oil product by his doctor for high triglycerides. He didn’t have a drug plan that covered the product; it cost a fortune –paid for it out of pocket, it was about $200 for a month’s supply. He was told by his doctor that the prescription-only product was more pure than the fish oil nutritional supplements you can buy off the shelf in health food stores.
Since I was familiar with a few companies that sell high quality fish oils – fully tested and guaranteed for purity, freshness and potency, with excellent testing for mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, dioxins, furans and PCBs, but costing about 10 times less than the FDA-approved prescription only product – I decided to investigate the validity of my friend’s doctor’s claims.
I contacted the drug company that offers a leading prescription-only product and a leading company that offers fish oils as nutritional supplements. Here’s what I found out:
- The Norwegian processing of fish oils is recognized as the industry standard – the best in the world. They supply the companies using their products and services with guarantees of purity, and so on. The nutritional supplements company said they use Norwegian suppliers for their fish oils. The drug company refused to give me information on their processing, but the nutritional supplements company told me they believe that the prescription-only product also gets their fish oils from the Norwegian suppliers.
- Companies that supply high quality fish oil exceed FDA standards – which are lower than those of the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega 3 (GOED) voluntary standards, the standard in California and required by Prop 65. With PCBs, for example, the FDA standard is 2000 parts per billion; the GOED standard is 90 parts per billion. Since PCBs are persistent and bioaccumulative – meaning, basically, that they accumulate in the body faster than the body can eliminate them – the 90 ppb standard seems to be more sensible.
- Fish oil companies that comply with the voluntary GOED standards are listed on the GOED site – and they include the fish oils nutritional supplements company I contacted. The list is long but considering there could be 500 companies offering fish oil supplements in one form or another, relatively few are GOED-compliant.
- The drug company that sells the prescription-only product was not listed on GOED and their representative would not give me the information when I asked. I did find out that if a product is FDA approved, that overrides Prop 65 and, therefore, GOED. So, whether or not the prescription only product is GOED-compliant is up in the air. However, the nutritional supplements company, which is very familiar with the prescription-only product, believes that the purity standards for the prescription-only product are very high.
- In fact, the purification processing for all high quality brands, including the prescription-only product, is basically the same. They all test for and are relatively free of heavy metals – including mercury – as well as PCBs and other toxins and impurities.
Long and short of it: the prescription-only product is no better, and is as good as, the high quality natural supplements. Bear in mind that we are talking about high quality fish oils – not every brand. Even the nutritional supplements company agreed that the prescription-only product is a good one.
However, there are two major drawbacks to the prescription-only variety:
First, it costs about 10 times as much as the high quality fish oil supplements on the shelves of your local health food store. If the patient is lucky enough to have insurance that covers the prescription-only product, their co-pay would be about equal to the cost of the product in the health food store. However, many patients are paying for it out of pocket. And if they’re not, they may be soon. The prescription-only product is so expensive that some of the insurance companies that used to cover it are wondering why they should shell out all that the money for prescription-only products when they’re no better than the high quality nutritional supplements at the local health food store.
Second, the specific prescription brand I checked out is only FDA approved for lowering triglycerides, and only for people with triglycerides higher than 500. According to the American Cholesterol Education Program, normal fasting blood triglyceride levels in adults is less than 150, borderline high is 150-199, and high is 200-499. Above that – 500+ – is ‘extremely high’. So, you’re not likely to get a prescription unless you’re really in trouble.
Of course, doctors can recommend them to anyone at their discretion, which is fine if you’re not concerned about using a product based only on FDA-approved criteria.
As an aside, high triglycerides are not the only indicator for fish oil supplementation. Studies have shown them to be beneficial for many conditions: depression, lowering cholesterol, reducing inflammation, reducing joint pain, improving brain function, increasing mental focus and improving vision, as well as helping patients with Crohn’s disease, colitis, Alzheimer’s and ulcers.
According to the American Association for Cancer Research, they even help slow tumor growth in women with breast cancer.
So, why did the manufacturer of the prescription-only product spend millions of dollars getting FDA approval? Looks like they’re trying to corner the market. And every time FTC censorship of nutritional supplements casts doubts on the safety and efficacy of supplements and refuses to allow the general public to find out what nutritional supplements can do for them, we move one step closer to that takeover. In the process, healthcare costs for patients, insurance companies and the American taxpayer continue to skyrocket.
It costs a lot less and takes a lot less time to verify the purity of high quality fish oils than it does to get FDA approval for a new prescription-only product. If the healthcare industry focused on that rather than finding ways to make more money for Big Pharma, we would all benefit.
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