FDA approves prescription fish oil
  • Mon, 07/30/2012 - 10:12am

Last Thursday, the FDA approved a prescription fish oil to treat severely elevated levels of triglycerides, an unhealthy fatty acid that can build up and cause heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease.

A slew of over-the-counter fish oil supplements exist, but new drug Vascepa offers advantages that other nonprescription fish oils cannot provide. U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval guarantees the drug’s effectiveness and holds the manufacturer responsible for producing a safe product, while generic supplements may only claim to be effective or safe.

For example some fish oil supplements may still contain mercury or small amounts of cholesterol despite makers’ claims that those substances were removed. Mercury consumption can cause mercury poisoning, and the presence of cholesterol could harm those patients taking fish oil to lower their cholesterol levels.

Vascepa, manufactured by Amarin Corporation PLC, consists of ultra-purified ethyl EPA, an omega-3 fatty acid. According to MedicineNet, omega-3 fatty acids, which are commonly found in cold-water fish like salmon, work to decrease cholesterol levels and low-density lipoproteins (“bad” cholesterol) in the blood.

The drug targets triglycerides, which are fat in the blood that the body uses for energy, according to WebMD. MedicineNet says that high triglyceride levels can increase the chance of developing atherosclerosis, which occurs when a buildup of fat hardens over time and thickens the walls of medium- and large-sized arteries. Atherosclerosis can cause coronary artery disease, a condition in which an obstruction restricts or stops blood flow in an artery, causing chest pain, heart attack or even stroke.

Vascepa is not the first prescription fish oil. The FDA approved GlaxoSmithKline's Lovaza pill in 2004 for people with very high triglycerides.

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About the Contributor

Jessica Davids
Cleveland
I report on FDA developments and new pharmaceutical launches, risks, and safety concerns.

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