Friday, January 24, 2014

The Lure of Supplements

A young man out walking was involved in a serious hit-and-run accident and ended up in the hospital in a coma.  The doctors told his parents that the best course of action was to wait and see how, and whether, his brain healed.  They were very distressed and did not want to accept this passive approach; they wanted to do something.  After multiple surgeries and time on a ventilator, they began secretly administering high doses of omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil, through his feeding tube based on the advice of a friend.  “Fish oil is what the family believes ultimately -- dramatically -- altered his life course, and healed his brain.”  This is a wonderful story of a miraculous recovery.  After hearing it, it may be tempting to start taking high doses of fish oil hoping to enhance our already healthy brains, but this would be a mistake.

The CNN article reports that there is some science behind it and seven published instances where using fish oil helped heal damaged brains.  The treatment has advocates but the article warns:  “there are other cases -- likely many more than have been successful -- when fish oil was tried and did not work.  And there is a concern among doctors that high doses of fish oil could cause excessive bleeding.”  There is really no way of knowing if the family was right to do what they did or correct in their conclusions.  Remember, they were acting out of desperation.

Fish oil, like all nutritional supplements, is not generally tested or regulated and should be handled with care, if at all.  A renewed warning comes from Johns Hopkins about this lack of testing:  “That leaves the effectiveness, quality and safety of herbal supplements questionable.”  They go on to list eight bullet points to consider before taking them.  The FDA continues to investigate safety concerns by urging doctors and manufacturers to report adverse reactions.

It can be dangerous to be lured by wonderful stories, the recommendations or even news reports in the media.

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