So much for affordable medicine. It took a century before the big pharmaceuticals really came into the picture as proper players, but only a decade for the health supplement industry to slip in, inhaling all the spare change in our pockets and breathing out a load of hot air.
It all boils down to economics. The vast majority of health supplement “formulae” are nothing more than basic biological discoveries in the public domain, and so require virtually zero research and development in comparison to pharmaceuticals. Without these expenses, the manufacturers have very little to lose, either in terms of reputation or class action litigation.
The advent of complementary medicine fragmented the market further. Whereas standard supplements such as vitamins and minerals have a proven role in our natural diets, some of the herbal remedies on the market often have little or no scientific backing. (If they had, the compound would eventually be isolated and marketed as such, as was the case of willow tree and aspirin.) These products nevertheless do extraordinarily well when they’re sitting on supermarket aisles next to the genuine article.
These two developments have almost conspired to sign a death warrant for omega-3 fish oils. As the name suggests, these soft-gels contain purified oils extracted from deep-sea fish such as hoki and tuna, and would have been a respectable condiment were it not for the exceedingly expensive price. They lie very much within the realm of dietary supplements, since the main benefits they accrue are through remedying a nutritional deficiency – namely, omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA. We would have ingested sufficient amounts through a well-balanced diet, but since they now now being systematically neutralized by an overdose of its sibling, omega-6, we have no choice but to raise the stakes. (The alternative being a renunciation from the modern diet, since omega-6 is found in most vegetable oils.)
Of course, fish has had its reputation dragged through a toxic slurry of heavy metals. This would have been inconsequential to fish oil consumers since the product needs to go through a rigorous distillation process. Of course, this last step is beyond most manufacturers unless they decide to invest in the proper equipment. It is quite unsound as investment decisions go, since the process changes neither the taste nor the short-term effects. The product contains neither to begin with, and both mercurial poisoning and the benefits of omega-3 manifest themselves over extended periods of consumption. And to round it off with a resounding suicide note, some manufacturers have begun to associate a pungent smell with effectiveness, even though anyone who has handled oily fish would notice that strong odours can only mean that it’s gone off.
The dangers of omega-3 deficiency are now well-understood, especially in terms of cardiovascular risks and chronic inflammation. So the next thing you’re shopping for some “bottled goodies of pure health”, as the condescending advertisements seem to think we’re all doing, become a discerning customer. Pick only molecularly distilled fish oils enriched with DHA, with a very faint sea-breeze aroma when popped. Your heart, as well as those struggling to sell honest goods for a living, will be most grateful.