Why You May Need to Re-Think Taking Those Fish Oil Supplements

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Long touted as a key to improved cardiovascular health, increased cognition, and other benefits, omega-3 supplements are facing increasing scrutiny over whether they work as advertised. If recent critical investigation is correct, you might be enduring fish burps for little to no benefit.

Reviewing the new book The Omega Principle by Paul Greenberg in Slate, Irineo Cabreros breaks down the dilemma facing the $15 billion omega-3 supplement industry. A recent meta-analysis that looked at 79 studies involving more than 100,000 subjects found that omega-3 consumption had virtually no effect on common heart conditions. An earlier examination of studies compiled in 2012 also found that supplementing with omega-3s had no impact on whether a person died as a result of a cardiac event. Consumption also had no impact on overall mortality. Studies that have looked at fish oil’s benefits when it comes to psychiatric conditions like depression have been similarly inconclusive.

So why do we believe omega-3s are synonymous with better health? The notion originally stemmed from research into an Inuit population in Greenland in the 1970s. The Inuit had low incidences of heart problems and ate a lot of fatty fish. The conclusion was that their oily fish-based diets had protective effects on the heart. Ever since, supplement companies and consumers have associated fish oil, in liquid or capsule form, as having a host of cardiovascular benefits. But more contemporary research illustrates that the Inuit might simply metabolize their fish-heavy diet differently, leading to effects that can’t necessarily be replicated in a general population.

While fish oil may not improve heart health, it’s not likely to do you any harm. Unfortunately, the same may not hold true for the environment. According to Greenberg’s book, supplement companies typically draw the raw material for their products from large quantities of forage fish that are captured for their oil and agricultural value as fertilizer and animal feed—up to 27 tons annually. Forage species like anchovies and krill play a key role in the aquatic ecosystem: As prey species, they transmit solar energy from plankton to larger carnivorous fish. If companies continue to winnow their population, it’s possible their absence could have unintended and unpredictable effects on food chains. Greenberg argues that continuing to weaken fish populations for supplements of dubious value may be something we’ll come to regret.

In the meantime, one thing experts can agree on is that eating actual fish is good for your body. The American Heart Association recommends eating two 3.5-ounce servings of fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and albacore tuna weekly.

[h/t Slate]

FDA Recalls Thyroid Medications Due to Contamination Risk

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Hypothyroid medications manufactured by Westminster Pharmaceuticals have been recalled after it was discovered that one of the company’s Chinese suppliers failed to meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards, CNN reports.

The oral tablets contain levothyroxine (LT4) and liothyronine (LT3), which are both synthetic hormones used to treat thyroid conditions.

The medicine was recalled as a precaution after it was discovered during a 2017 FDA inspection that the Chinese supplier in question, Sichuan Friendly Pharmaceutical Co., was not practicing good manufacturing practices.

However, patients with serious thyroid conditions shouldn’t throw out their pills just yet. No adverse effects from the medication have been reported, and the risk of not taking the medication outweighs the risk of taking a recalled pill.

According to the FDA, “Because these products may be used in the treatment of serious medical conditions, patients taking the recalled medicines should continue taking their medicine until they have a replacement product.”

For more information on the specific lots and products in question, visit the FDA’s website.

[h/t CNN]

A 'Zombie Gene' Might Be the Reason Elephants Rarely Get Cancer

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When it comes to cancer rates in the animal kingdom, elephants are an anomaly. As Popular Science notes, cancer should be more common among larger species, but with elephants, that simply isn’t the case. Only about 5 percent of elephants die from cancer, compared to 11 to 25 percent of humans.

In a new study, published in Cell Reports, University of Chicago researchers found what’s believed to be the genetic source of elephants’ cancer immunity. Elephants, like all mammals, have a gene called LIF that is known to suppress tumors. Humans have one copy of this gene, but elephants have 10 copies, which have developed over 80 million years of evolution. However, only one of those copies, called LIF6, is functional in elephants.

The other LIF copies are essentially dead because they lack a specific piece of DNA to make them function. At some point during the evolutionary process, the LIF6 gene copy turned back on, but scientists don’t know why or when this occurred. This “zombie gene” helps kill mutated cells, in true Night of the Living Dead fashion.

“This reanimation of LIF6 occurred perhaps over 59 million years,” Joshua Schiffman, who studies cancer in elephants but was not involved in the study, told Popular Science. “That’s an amazingly long period of time for nature to modify and perfect an anticancer mechanism.”

Scientists aren’t yet sure how this could be applied to cancer research in humans, but they say it’s a promising start and a creative approach to the problem. While these findings are still fresh and need to be duplicated, it raises the possibility of creating a drug that mimics the function of LIF6.

[h/t Popular Science]

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