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NRC ON FISH OIL FOR CORONARY HEART DISEASE PREVENTION

Executive Summary

NRC ON FISH OIL FOR CORONARY HEART DISEASE PREVENTION: "There is insufficent evidence they are beneficial and the absence of long-term adverse effects has not been established," the National Research Council (NRC) said in its March 1 report, Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. Although the report recognizes that the consumption of fish one or more times a week has been associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, the council decided against recommending the fish oil supplements for that indication. The NRC report appears to counter the recommendation made to FDA last September by the Proprietary Association (P-A) that the marketers of fish oil supplements be allowed to carry "health messages" on their products. Specifically, P-A recommended that FDA allow the products to carry the label statement: "Fish oil supplements provide a substantial source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, consumption of which may, as part of a total dietary program designed to reduce consumption of fat and cholesterol and to increase the ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fat in the diet, help to control blood lipid levels, including serum triglyceride and serum cholesterol levels, ]and help to[ reduce the risk of heart disease." The major marketers of fish oil products are: Warner Lambert -- Promega; Squibb -- Proto-Chol; Scherer -- MaxEPA; and Thompson Medical -- Cardi-Omega 3. In a discussion of vitamin and mineral supplements, NRC maintains that no substantiated evidence exists either for or against use of the products when they equal no more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA). The report notes: "There are no documented reports that daily multiple vitamin-mineral supplements, equaling no more than the RDA for a particular nutrient, are either beneficial or harmful for the general population. The potential risks or benefits of the long-term use of small doses of supplements have not been systematically examined." However, the report points out that the adverse effects of consuming excessive amounts of certain nutrients, such as vitamin A, are well documented. "Vitamin-mineral supplements that exceed the RDA and other supplements (such as protein powders, single amino acids, fiber and lecithin) not only have no known health benefits . . . but their use may be detrimental to health," the report states. The report maintains that the "desirable way for the general public to obtain recommended levels of nutrients is by eating a variety of foods." Despite the NRC's skepticism towards the effectiveness of dietary supplements in preventing disease, vitamin and mineral consumption has been steadily on the rise over the past 15 years. Sales of dietary supplements, the report says, were $ 3 bil. in 1987, up 600% from $ 500 mil. in 1972. A breakdown of sales by category shows multi-vitamins leading the group, capturing 37% of sales in 1986, followed by vitamin C and calcium, with 13% and 12% of sales, respectively.

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