People’s Pharmacy: Fish Oil Relieves Inflammation But Is Linked To Atrial Fibrillation

By Joe Graedon, MS,

and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D.

Syndicate of Kings Features

Q I have been suffering from an undiagnosed rheumatic disease for five years. As my eyes were affected, I started taking fish oil. A few months later, I developed an irregular heartbeat and read your article about the fish oil link. I stopped fish oil and a few days later the situation improved. Can you tell me more about fish oil and heart rhythm disorders?

A. Scientists have conducted a number of randomized, placebo-controlled trials to determine if omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil have cardiovascular benefits. A study of more than 8,000 people at high risk of heart attack tested icosapent ethyl (Vascepa), a prescription drug that acts like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), a component of fish oil (New England Journal of Medicine, 10 November 2018).

This drug significantly reduced the risk of heart attack or stroke. However, it also slightly increased the likelihood of atrial fibrillation. Investigators recently analyzed data from a trial that included more than 1,000 elderly Norwegian heart attack survivors (Journal of Internal Medicine, January 4). People whose blood levels of EPA rose the most were the least likely to develop serious heart problems, but they had a higher risk of atrial fibrillation.

Q I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 70. Mesalamine controls most symptoms except flatulence and bloating. Simethicone doesn’t help. I tried Lactaid, and the impact was immediate and amazing. I’ve never had a dairy sensitivity, so this puzzles me. I don’t know why it works, but I’m glad it works!

A. The sugar in dairy products (lactose) can cause symptoms such as gas, bloating, cramps and diarrhea in people who lack the enzyme lactase. Lactaid provides this enzyme if taken together with food containing lactose.

Many people may not realize that they are lactose intolerant. According to the National Library of Medicine, about 30 million Americans develop this disease. You may not have realized you were sensitive until you started adding lactase to your diet.

Q Is there still a problem with Generic Wellbutrin? I am taking bupropion for depression and am not getting any relief from my last prescription. I wonder if the manufacturer is not doing a good job. Do you have any advice?

A. We started hearing about problems with generic Wellbutrin in early 2007. People who had switched from Wellbutrin XL 300 to the first generic version of this drug reported problems. Many have experienced side effects such as anxiety, dizziness, nausea, tremors, headaches, irritability, and insomnia. They often reported a return of depression, and some became suicidal.

We brought this to the attention of the Food and Drug Administration, and five years later the agency determined that a number of generic bupropion products were not bioequivalent to the brand name.

You can read more about this scandal in our eGuide to Saving Money on Medicines. This online resource can be found under the Health eGuides tab at

We again started to hear complaints from other readers about problems with generic bupropion. Although the brand name Wellbutrin is outrageously expensive in the United States, you can buy this brand name drug for much less at a legitimate Canadian pharmacy.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon respond to letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them through their website They are the authors of “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them”.

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