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Category Archives: Natural Health Products

Very few products available in your local pharmacy can claim as many uses as Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a type of unsaturated fat that are found in high quantities in certain fish (such as salmon, herring, sardines) as well as plant sources (such as flax).

The two most common Omega-3s found in supplements are EPA and DHA. Some supplements will have their Omega-3s derived from fish oils while others will be derived from plant sources. Be sure to choose a product that lists the amount of EPA or DHA per capsule.

There has been some concern by patients over the levels of heavy metals (such as mercury) in Omega-3 fish oils. However, heavy metals tend to accumulate in the protein of the fish rather than the fats. In addition, Health Canada tests all Omega-3 products for their heavy metal content before being made available to the public.

Here are 5 common medical conditions that Omega-3s can help treat:

1. Arthritis – Omega-3s have been shown to help decrease inflammation in the body, therefore they may help relieve some of the pain associated with both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Between 3 – 5 grams of EPA and DHA for 12 weeks are needed for the anti-inflammatory effects.

2. Hyperlipidemia – Omega 3-s can help lower triglyceride (fat) levels circulating in the body. High triglyceride levels contribute to the formation of fat deposits in blood vessels. This can lead to hardening of the arteries, which allows for the formation of dangerous clots which can cause a heart attack or stroke. Studies have shown that 2 – 4 grams of fish oils can lower triglycerides by 20-50%.

3. Hypertension – Omega-3s have a modest effect on reducing blood pressure and may be a viable option for patients with mild hypertension who do not wish to start a prescription medication at this time. Omega-3s reduce the production of agents that constrict blood vessels and increases production of agents that open blood vessels. For cardiac health, 1 gram of EPA plus DHA daily is recommended.

4. Depression – Studies have shown that 1 gram of EPA twice daily may yield anti-depressant and/or mood stabilizing effects. Omega-3s may be suited for the treatment of specific populations, such as pregnant or lactating women where conventional antidepressants must be used with caution.

5. Loss of Vision – Recent studies have shown the beneficial effects of omega-3s on vision, specifically decreasing risk of age related macular degeneration. Further investigations are needed to confirm the results of these studies, however many ophthalmologists are now recommending that their patients take Omega-3 supplements.

If supplements are not for you, try to replace the meat in two of your meals per week with fish. Certain populations (such as Mediterranean and Inuit) that eat high amounts of fish and little amounts of red meats have much lower rates of cardiovascular disease compared to the North American populations.

Omega-3s are not for everyone. For patients on blood thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin) or Aspirin (ASA), be sure to check with your physician or pharmacist before starting on Omega-3s as they may increase the risk of bleeding.



           Many patients come into the pharmacy and have questions about cholesterol and what they can do to decrease it. Whether they found out they have elevated cholesterol through routine blood work or have a family history of high cholesterol, patients are curious about natural ways of lowering their cholesterol.

            There are two types of cholesterol: a “good” cholesterol (HDL) and “bad” cholesterol (LDL). For patients with high cholesterol, the goal of therapy is to increase the amount of HDL and decrease the amount of LDL. Approximately 80% of cholesterol is made by the body and only 20% comes from the food you eat.

            Many commercials for food products such as cereals and margarines are advertising that they can help lower cholesterol. The goal of this article is to examine the evidence of the effectiveness of various natural health and food products on the market that claim to lower cholesterol.

            Products that contain soluble fibres such as psyllium (ie. Metamucil) or oat bran are known as bile acid binders. These products increase the excretion of cholesterol from the body as well as increase the breakdown of cholesterol in the body to less harmful products. Between 10 and 30 grams of psyllium fibre daily mixed with others foods has been shown to have a significant cholesterol lowering effect.

            Between 1.5 and 3 grams per day of Niacin (Vitamin B3) has been shown to lower bad cholesterol while increasing good cholesterol. In some patients, Niacin can cause skin flushing (redness of the skin) as well as itching. There are “flush-free” or “no flush” Niacin products available; however, their effectiveness has not been established.

            Plant sterols and stanols often found in margarines labeled heart healthy (such as Becel Pro-activ) have been shown to prevent some of the absorption of cholesterol from the diet and can be included as part of a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables to lower cholesterol.

            Finally, some studies have shown that between 600 and 1200mg of garlic in three divided doses can lower the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (fat) in the body. Unfortunately, some patients report bad breath as well as nausea and flatulence when taking this amount of garlic.

            Patients who have been prescribed a cholesterol lowering medication called a “statin” such as Crestor (rosuvastatin) or Lipitor (atorvastatin) can consider taking Coenzyme Q10. Statins inhibit the synthesis of Coenzyme Q10, which may lead to muscle weakness and impaired energy metabolism.

            If you have any questions about natural health products available to help lower your cholesterol, be sure to ask your physician or community pharmacist to see if those products are right for you.