Why You May Need to Re-Think Taking Those Fish Oil Supplements

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iStock

Long touted as a key to improved cardiovascular health, increased cognition, and other benefits, omega-3 supplements are facing increasing scrutiny over whether they work as advertised. If recent critical investigation is correct, you might be enduring fish burps for little to no benefit.

Reviewing the new book The Omega Principle by Paul Greenberg in Slate, Irineo Cabreros breaks down the dilemma facing the $15 billion omega-3 supplement industry. A recent meta-analysis that looked at 79 studies involving more than 100,000 subjects found that omega-3 consumption had virtually no effect on common heart conditions. An earlier examination of studies compiled in 2012 also found that supplementing with omega-3s had no impact on whether a person died as a result of a cardiac event. Consumption also had no impact on overall mortality. Studies that have looked at fish oil’s benefits when it comes to psychiatric conditions like depression have been similarly inconclusive.

So why do we believe omega-3s are synonymous with better health? The notion originally stemmed from research into an Inuit population in Greenland in the 1970s. The Inuit had low incidences of heart problems and ate a lot of fatty fish. The conclusion was that their oily fish-based diets had protective effects on the heart. Ever since, supplement companies and consumers have associated fish oil, in liquid or capsule form, as having a host of cardiovascular benefits. But more contemporary research illustrates that the Inuit might simply metabolize their fish-heavy diet differently, leading to effects that can’t necessarily be replicated in a general population.

While fish oil may not improve heart health, it’s not likely to do you any harm. Unfortunately, the same may not hold true for the environment. According to Greenberg’s book, supplement companies typically draw the raw material for their products from large quantities of forage fish that are captured for their oil and agricultural value as fertilizer and animal feed—up to 27 tons annually. Forage species like anchovies and krill play a key role in the aquatic ecosystem: As prey species, they transmit solar energy from plankton to larger carnivorous fish. If companies continue to winnow their population, it’s possible their absence could have unintended and unpredictable effects on food chains. Greenberg argues that continuing to weaken fish populations for supplements of dubious value may be something we’ll come to regret.

In the meantime, one thing experts can agree on is that eating actual fish is good for your body. The American Heart Association recommends eating two 3.5-ounce servings of fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and albacore tuna weekly.

[h/t Slate]

12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

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The FDA Has Approved the First At-Home COVID-19 Test Kit—Here's What You Need to Know About It

A new at-home test for COVID-19 can provide results in 30 minutes.
A new at-home test for COVID-19 can provide results in 30 minutes.
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

One of the biggest factors in controlling COVID-19 is understanding who might be spreading the coronavirus. Currently, most people are tested when they’re symptomatic or have been in contact with someone known to have coronavirus, but arranging for that test—and getting results in a timely manner—can be a hassle.

It may not be long before testing for COVID-19 becomes as simple as self-administering an at-home test. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for a home collection kit made by Lucira Health that allows individuals to collect their own nasal swab sample and get results in 30 minutes. While promising, there are also plenty of caveats. Here’s what we currently know about the test.

How does the COVID-19 home test kit work?

The test kit includes a battery-operated diagnostic device, a sample tube, and swab. A person swabs their nostrils, inserts the sample into the tube containing a solution, and then inserts the tube into the device, which looks for genetic material associated with the virus and will display a positive or negative result within 30 minutes. The kit is approved for those 14 years old and up. Those younger than 14 are advised to have a health care provider administer the test.

How effective is the COVID-19 home test kit?

Lucira Health claims that the kit was tested in roughly 100 people who used another FDA-approved test for COVID-19 and compared results. The company says it was 94.1 percent accurate in detecting those who were deemed positive by the other test and 98 percent accurate in detecting negative samples. As with any coronavirus test, it’s possible to get a negative result if the person is tested too early after being exposed to the virus.

Why is the COVID-19 home test important?

Having an individual collect their own sample and get results in 30 minutes allows for those positive for COVID-19 to quarantine immediately, reducing the chances of being around others while infectious. A person could, for example, self-administer the test before going to work or school and know they’re likely to be negative. 

Haven’t there been other COVID-19 tests for home use?

Yes, but those tests typically involve a sample being collected at home and then sent away for laboratory testing. The Lucira Health test is the first to offer both collection and results at home.

Who’s eligible to use the COVID-19 at-home test?

Currently, the kit can only be obtained with a prescription from a doctor, who will likely want to know if a patient is symptomatic before ordering it.

How much does the COVID-19 home test cost?

The single-use test will cost around $50. It’s unclear whether additional sample tubes and swabs will be available for purchase, or if insurance plans will cover the cost.

When will the COVID-19 at-home test be available to the public?

The test is expected to be released for patients of Sutter Health in California and Cleveland Clinic Florida in Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the near future. Lucira Health needs to ramp up production to make the test kit widely available, which may not happen until spring 2021. The company plans on asking the FDA to allow the kits to be available to consumers via overnight mail with a doctor’s approval.

[h/t Reuters]