My local newspaper, The News Tribune of Tacoma, is a prolific source of fake news. On most days there are between one and three half-page ads for dietary supplements. They are thinly disguised as news stories, with “paid advertisement” in small print. One recent ad is a doozy. It’s for the omega-3 supplement Omega Rejuvenol. The same ad was published in various newspapers; you can see a copy of it here. In a way, it’s really quite amusing, because it repeats a story that essentially debunked what the ad is selling.The headline shouts, “Washington Post Exposes $1.2 Billion Fish Oil Scam.” It did indeed. But the exposé is several years old and it didn’t say what the supplement manufacturer would like to think it said. In a 2015 article, it reported that Americans spend $1.2 Billion on fish oil supplements. It went on to say that the fish oil supplement industry was “built on empty promises.” The ad even quotes the Journal of the American Medical Association saying that fish oil supplements “lack efficacy across a range of health outcomes.”
Fish oil vs. krill oil
Then the ad subtly switches gears. First it warns that some fish are contaminated with mercury and other toxins, letting the reader assume that products sourced from those fish are toxic. They aren’t. Consumer Lab has tested fish oil supplements and found no mercury contaminants and only trace amounts of PCBs (which is unavoidable since water everywhere contains the same trace amounts).
Then they claim that other brands:
- Fail to get into cells quickly enough.
- Don’t deliver enough of the most important omega-3, DHA.
- Can’t cross the blood/brain barrier, “so the brain is left wanting.”
- Often don’t contain the amount specified on the label.
They say experts are throwing out fish oil and turning to new and better sources of omega-3’s. They claim their product contains “deep sea Omega-3s” from the pure, cold waters near the South Pole that are “virtually 100% free of contaminants.” That’s not true. Their product is made from squid and krill oil. They explain that krill oil DHA is bound to phospholipids, which may offer some advantages over DHA bound to triglycerides or ethyl esters. But other omega-3 supplements on the market contain krill oil, and absorption of EPA and DHA from krill has not definitively been shown to be better from fish oil. Other sources say deep sea fish are less nutritious and more likely to be contaminated with toxins.
Who sells it?
Dr. Al Sears is quoted in the ad and guess what? He sells the product on his website. It is one of many questionable supplements he sells under his Private Label Primal Force. He says “Omega Rejuvenol helps restore the stamina, strength and mental acuity that Nature intended by recreating the Primal conditions of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.” He calls it an anti-aging formula, but it is listed under his “Brain and memory” category.
What’s in it?
- DHA and EPA from squid and krill oils
- Natural astaxanthin complex
- Vitamins A, D3, and K2
Why that particular combination of ingredients? Sears doesn’t explain. Where is the evidence that those ingredients, either separately or in combination, have the effects that he claims for his product? The only references he offers are two articles. One is a rat study about krill oil’s effect on mitochondrial tricarboxylate carrier, the other is not a study but a review and opinion piece recommending lipids and antioxidants for metabolic syndrome patients who suffer to various degrees from fatigue.
What is it supposed to do?
He claims its unique combination of ingredients will
- Support smoother skin, better vision and more flexible discomfort-free joints
- Generate extra energy by promoting a powerful heart and lungs
- Enhance confidence by fostering greater brainpower
- Support blood-pressure and blood-vessel health
- Encourage healthy levels of blood sugar and triglycerides
- Protect, support and even lengthen your telomeres
How does he know this? Certainly not from clinical studies.
The Wikipedia article on omega-3s provides a handy compilation of studies on their health effects. For some conditions, no effect was found; for other conditions, there was preliminary and tentative evidence of benefit. Overall, the evidence is not very impressive, and it certainly doesn’t support the claims for Omega Rejuvenol.
Typical hype and advertising ploys
It has the usual features of these fake news ads. Meaningless testimonials (“Kerry gets compliments galore for her youthful looking skin.”) Special arrangements have been made for readers to get a risk-free trial with a money-back guarantee. Order today. And of course, the FDA disclaimer in small print at the bottom.
Conclusion: Unanswered questions
Should you take omega-3 supplements? Does this product provide more omega-3s than other sources? Does it have clinically significant benefits, and if so, are the benefits greater than with other products on the market? There’s no way to know. In the absence of controlled clinical trials, it’s a crap shoot. Buyer beware. And déjà vu all over again.
A half-page ad can’t be cheap. The fact that these fake news ads continue to appear so regularly must mean that a lot of naïve readers are being baffled with bullshit and are buying the products. Even if the only harms are false hope and a lighter wallet, it’s a shame. I wish the newspapers would take some responsibility and stop printing these misleading ads, but that’s not going to happen because these ads are a lucrative source of income for an industry in decline. The almighty dollar outweighs journalistic integrity.
This article was originally published in the Science-Based Medicine Blog.