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Am J Cardiovasc Drugs. 2016 Aug;16(4):229-239. doi: 10.1007/s40256-016-0170-7.

Omega-3 Fatty Acid Formulations in Cardiovascular Disease: Dietary Supplements are Not Substitutes for Prescription Products.

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Miami Cardiac and Vascular Institute, Baptist Health South Florida, 8900 N. Kendall Drive, Miami, FL, 33176, USA.


Omega-3 fatty acid products are available as prescription formulations (icosapent ethyl, omega-3-acid ethyl esters, omega-3-acid ethyl esters A, omega-3-carboxylic acids) and dietary supplements (predominantly fish oils). Most dietary supplements and all but one prescription formulation contain mixtures of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Products containing both EPA and DHA may raise low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C). In clinical trials, the EPA-only prescription product, icosapent ethyl, did not raise LDL-C compared with placebo. To correct a common misconception, it is important to note that omega-3 fatty acid dietary supplements are not US FDA-approved over-the-counter drugs and are not required to demonstrate safety and efficacy prior to marketing. Conversely, prescription products are supported by extensive clinical safety and efficacy investigations required for FDA approval and have active and ongoing safety monitoring programs. While omega-3 fatty acid dietary supplements may have a place in the supplementation of diet, they generally contain lower levels of EPA and DHA than prescription products and are not approved or intended to treat disease. Perhaps due to the lack of regulation of dietary supplements, EPA and DHA levels may vary widely within and between brands, and products may also contain unwanted cholesterol or fats or potentially harmful components, including toxins and oxidized fatty acids. Accordingly, omega-3 fatty acid dietary supplements should not be substituted for prescription products. Similarly, prescription products containing DHA and EPA should not be substituted for the EPA-only prescription product, as DHA may raise LDL-C and thereby complicate the management of patients with dyslipidemia.

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