Wasting Money on Fish Oil and Vitamin Supplements

Gaudi's depiction of breasts. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Gaudi's depiction of breasts. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Omega-3 supplements (fish oil supplements) are popular. The global market of these pills is valued at three billion dollars. More billions are spent by consumers on other supplements like vitamins and minerals. Experts say this kind of money can be used for better health by doing what is proven to be good for your heart, brain and rest of the body.

Smart way to meet your omega-3 needs is to eat healthy. There is no need to spend money on the pills.

Omega-3s are a family of essential fatty acids that play important roles in our body and may provide a number of health benefits. It is important to know, omega-3s are not produced in our body. We must get them from our diet because they are essential for our good health.

The three most important types of omega-3 are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). ALA is mainly found in plants, while DHA and EPA occur mostly in animal foods and algae.

Common foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, fish oils, flax seeds, chia seeds, flaxseed oil, and walnuts.

People take fish oil to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, to treat high triglycerides and high blood pressure, and to improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

What is the evidence?

There are about 3,000 scientific clinical trial reports on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. When teams of researchers scrutinized the most reliable of these studies, they concluded that the treatment potential of these supplements is minimal to nil. In a few cases, inconclusive.

Health Canada recommends you eat at least five ounces (150 grams) of cooked fish every week. You can also get EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids from eggs, fish oil supplements and EPA and DHA-enriched foods.

Evidence in the population generally does not support a beneficial role for omega−3 fatty acid pills in preventing cardiovascular disease (including myocardial infarction and sudden cardiac death) or stroke. If you’re healthy and at low or average risk for heart disease, chances are you don’t need an omega-3 supplement (in the form of pills), provided you eat fish often.

Is it healthy to take vitamins and minerals on a regular basis?

Six years ago (December 17, 2013) an editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine titled, “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements” said despite sobering evidence of no benefit or possible harm, use of multivitamin supplements has increased among U.S. adults.

Three articles in this issue of the Annals address the role of vitamin and mineral supplements for preventing the occurrence or progression of chronic diseases.

The article concluded, β-carotene, vitamin E, and possibly high doses of vitamin A supplements are harmful.

Other pills like folic acid and B vitamins, and multivitamin and mineral supplements are ineffective for preventing death or sickness due to major chronic diseases.

The Annals editorial says although available evidence does not rule out small benefits or harms or large benefits or harms in a small subgroup of the population, they believe the case is closed – supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful. These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. The editorial says, “Enough is enough.”

If you are a well-nourished healthy adult then you should not waste your money on vitamins and mineral pills.

According to Health Canada, more than half of Canadians use supplements vitamins, natural remedies and homeopathic methods. In Canada, The Natural Health Products Directorate was created in 1997 to regulate the industry. Millions of Canadians are spending millions of dollars on these supplements. Has this made Canadians healthy?

Here is a good example of immense wastage of tax dollars. A study published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine (July 15, 2019) says, “Almost two-thirds of Ontario seniors who received vitamin B12 shots had no evidence of a B12 deficiency.” This needlessly cost the province’s health-care system $45.6 million annually.

Readers are cautioned not to stop using any pills without consulting their physician. If you are regularly taking omega-3 fatty acid pills, vitamin and mineral pills or injection then consult with your doctor to review your meds.

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19 reasons why you have back pain.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and Resort (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and Resort (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

If you look at the spine you wonder how it was created.

Spine is a column of bones (vertebrae) held together by muscles, tendons and ligaments and cushioned by shock-absorbing disks. If you have a backache then the problem can be in any one or more of the elements forming your spine.

Low back pain is one of the most common and costly musculoskeletal problems in modern society. It is experienced by 70 to 80 per cent of adults at some time in their lives.

Your symptoms can vary from simply being an annoyance or it can be excruciating and disabling pain.

Good news is most back pain goes away on its own or with some medical treatment within four weeks. Surgery usually isn’t needed and generally is considered only if other treatments are not effective.

Most common reasons for strains and sprains are improper lifting, poor posture and lack of regular exercise. In one article, I saw a list of 19 causes of back pain. Some common problems are herniated disk, obesity, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, poor posture, sciatica, spinal fractures, spinal stenosis and sprains.

When do you need tests like X-ray, CT scan, or MRI?

According to the guidelines in Choosing Wisely, most people with low back pain do not need these tests because these tests do not help.

There are three reasons why you should not rush into getting these tests. First, most people with lower-back pain feel better in about a month. Second, people who get these tests do not get better faster compared to people who took over-the-counter pain medicine and followed simple steps, like walking, to help their pain. Lastly, these tests lead to surgery and other treatments that you do not need.

That does not mean imaging test for back pain is a bad idea. In some cases, you may need an imaging test right away.

For example, if your back pain is associated with weight loss that you cannot explain, fever over 39 degrees C, loss of control of your bowel or bladder, loss of feeling or strength in your legs, problems with reflexes, and if you have a history of cancer.

These symptoms may suggest nerve damage or a serious problem such as cancer or an infection in the spine. If you do not have any of these symptoms, Choosing Wisely recommends waiting a few weeks for x-rays.

How much bed rest is too much?

For many years, getting bed rest was the normal advice. However, newer data have shown that there is little to no role for bed rest in the treatment of low back pain.

Research suggests if you find comfortable positions and move around sometimes, you may not need bed rest at all. Research also shows more than 48 hours of bed rest may actually increase pain, by increasing the stiffness of the spine and the muscle.

The sooner you start physical therapy or return to activities such as walking, the faster you are likely to recover.

A study published in 2015 by Furlan AD et al (Massage for low back pain) found massage therapy has the potential to minimize pain in the short term and speed return to normal function. More study is required to see if massage has long-term benefits.

According to Harvard Men’s Health Watch, yoga is a gentle practice that is ideal for maintaining back strength and flexibility. It’s also one of the more effective tools for helping reduce low back pain. It should be done gently and carefully.

The benefits of yoga go beyond muscles. The slow movements and the continuous focus on proper breathing can improve the emotional aspect of back pain by helping to lower stress and alleviate anxiety and depression.

It is important to keep moving to maintain muscle strength and flexibility. With bed rest, you lose about one per cent of your muscle strength each day. And you can lose 20 to 30 per cent in a week. Then it is harder to return to regular activity.

Most people with lower-back pain should apply heat or ice. Some people can get pain relief from an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication.

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Stop flirting with your enemies by eating smarter and healthier.

Cruise ship in St. Martin. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Cruise ship in St. Martin. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Let us start with a question – What is the best way to lose weight? Is it intense exercise or less eating? Or both?

You cannot lose weight just by exercising. Regular exercise will make your heart and muscles strong. To lose weight you have to eat less and eat healthy. This has to be a lifelong strategy. Scientific evidence shows most people (who lose weight) will regain their weight over a period of time as they revert to their old eating habits.

There are many challenges faced by people who try to lose weight and maintain the loss. The challenges are to avoid foods containing sugar, salt and fat.

When you start cooking or sit down to eat, ask yourself – am I flirting with my enemies? How grave are the consequences? Let us look at the answers in more detail.

Your enemy number one – sugar.

Today, our diet is packed with huge amounts of added sugars.

Sugar is used as an ingredient in many packaged foods. Statistics from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows Americans eat about 17 teaspoons of added sugars per day. That’s significantly more than the American Heart Association’s recommendation of not to consume more than nine teaspoons a day. We are consuming twice the amount of sugar than recommended.

We know added sugars are bad for us. It is associated with an increased risk of overweight and obesity. That is directly linked to the development of type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown odds of being overweight or obese were 54 percent greater among individuals with the highest intake of sugars compared with those with the lowest intake.

Those who like to eat sweet stuff also increase the risk of heart disease. Several studies have shown a higher sugar intake also meant higher levels of total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglycerides irrespective of your weight.

Your enemy number two – salt.

We know too much sodium (salt) is bad for your heart. And yet, most North Americans consume about 50 per cent more than the maximum of 2,300 mg per day of salt. Reducing salt intake reduces the risk of heart disease.

Sodium is present in all types of food as a preservative or to improve the taste. It is lurking in some foods you wouldn’t necessarily suspect.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 categories of food (breads, pizza, sandwiches, cold cuts and cured meats, soups, burritos and tacos, savory snacks, chicken, cheese, eggs and omelets) account for 44 per cent of our overall sodium intake.

Best thing is to cook at home. Restaurant foods are heavily loaded with salt. Eating at home is always healthier and safer.

Your enemy number three – fat.

If you eat the right kind of fat then fat is good for you. Studies show different types of fats -monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated – had varied effects on health.

Saturated fat is the bad one. Instead of consuming saturated fat, eat unsaturated fats (fish, nuts, olive oil) or healthy carbs (grains, legumes). This way you can protect your heart. You want your heart to pump forever!

Avoid trans fats. American Heart Association says, “Doughnuts, cookies, crackers, muffins, pies and cakes are examples of foods that may contain trans fat. Limit how frequently you eat them. Limit commercially fried foods and baked goods made with shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.” Trans fat is really bad fat.

Eat more foods that contain unsaturated fat. Avocados, nuts, olive oil, and fatty fish should all appear regularly on your plate. Keep an eye on the calorie intake. Otherwise these foods are good.

My favourite diet: heart-healthy Mediterranean diet with a four-point plan.

According to Mayo Clinic website, if you’re looking for a heart-healthy eating plan, the Mediterranean diet might be right for you.

The main components of Mediterranean diet include:

  1. Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats
  2. Weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans and eggs
  3. Moderate portions of dairy products
  4. Limited intake of red meat

Sounds pretty simple! Enjoy!

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Painful experience of acute renal colic is hard to define.

Columbia Icefield, Rocky Mountains (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Columbia Icefield, Rocky Mountains (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Renal colic is painful. The pain comes when urinary stones block part of the urinary tract. Kidneys are part of the urinary system. So are the ureters, urinary bladder and urethra.

Kidneys are very important organs in our body. We are blessed with two kidneys. If one kidney fails we have a spare one. Compared to other organs like brain, heart, liver and spleen. It is important we take good care of our kidneys. Two functioning kidneys are better than one.

Why kidneys are important? Because they remove waste and extra water from the blood in the form of urine. Without the kidneys, the waste would keep building up and, over time, you would die. Or go on a long-term dialysis until you find a matching kidney for a transplant.

There are many illnesses that can destroy the kidneys. Today, we will discuss the effect of kidney stones. Kidney stones have many causes and can affect any part of the urinary tract – from the kidneys to the bladder.

Some individuals are prone to forming stones in the kidneys or urinary bladder. Kidney stones are hard deposits made of minerals and salts. These include calcium phosphate, calcium oxalate and uric acid. Minerals crystallize and stick together. Supersaturation of the urine constitutes a driving force favouring stone formation.

Kidney stones are rarely, if ever, fatal. The main impact of kidney stones is felt by young, otherwise healthy adults in the form of acute renal colic, causing symptoms of pain, nausea, vomiting and blood in the urine.

The lifetime risk of passing a kidney stone is about eight to 10 per cent among North American males. The peak age of incidence is 30-years. The rate of kidney stone formation in women is about half that in men, with two peaks, the first among women aged 35-years and the second among those aged 55-years.

Among patients who have passed one stone, the lifetime recurrence rate is 60 to 80 per cent.

What promotes crystallization of chemicals in the urine? There are many factors involved in this process, including urine pH, stasis and dehydration. The whole process is complex, involving many factors.

A kidney stone may not cause symptoms until it moves around within the kidney or passes into ureter – the tube connecting the kidney and bladder. Passing kidney stones can be quite painful, but the stones usually cause no permanent damage if they are recognized in a timely manner.

Depending on the situation, you may need nothing more than to take pain medication and drink lots of water. In other instances – for example, if stones become lodged in the urinary tract, are associated with a urinary infection or cause complications, then surgery may be needed.

Some controversy exists about the extent of investigation required after the passage of a single stone. Because the rate of recurrence is high, some experts favour an exhaustive evaluation for anyone who has passed a stone.

Patients with kidney stones are advised to increase fluid intake to produce a urine volume of 2-3 L/day. Good advice is to reduce the intake of animal protein, calcium and sodium, because reduction in the renal excretion of sodium will also reduce renal calcium excretion and thus render the urine less prone to making stones.

Start reading the preview of my book A Doctor's Journey for free on Amazon. Available on Kindle for $2.99!