September 11th, 2012
Advertising That Falls Short — Part 1: Omega-3 Fatty-Acid Supplements
Lately I’ve been pondering the impact of advertisements on the public’s knowledge, and I’ve decided to start a series of posts about some that trouble me.
This week JAMA published a meta-analysis showing a lack of evidence that omega-3 fatty-acid supplements reduce the risk for heart disease (confirming an Archives of Internal Medicine meta-analysis from earlier this year). The ad below, created by a company called RenewLife, appears in the October 2012 issue of Yoga magazine.
The ad’s purported focus is to explain why omega-3 fatty acids are important to your heart health — specifically, according to the ad, that they help to maintain “healthy cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood pressure levels already in the normal range. Omega-3 helps maintain these key markers by supporting the body’s normal inflammatory response, leading to optimal heart, blood vessel, and joint health.”
What’s lacking in this message is that these supplements do not improve patient outcomes. The ad does refer to an American Heart Association recommendation from 2003: “For patients with documented CHD, the AHA recommends ≈1 g of EPA and DHA (combined) per day” — with an emphasis on dietary intake.
However, outcomes trials of omega-3 supplements have, overall, failed to show a benefit in preventing heart disease. The possible reasons for that failure are many, and future research might identify an effective dose and formulation. But, for now, a lack of proven benefit is the state of the trial evidence — and that is the message that the public should hear.
What is our role as clinicians in putting ads like this in context for patients?