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Omega-3 EPA: Treatment for a Heart Condition

In the wake of British Heart week (8-15th June), Dr Jav Nazemi - CEO of Igennus, manufacturer of purified omega-3 fish oil supplements - tells how his daughter's heart condition led to the start of his business and the omega-3 EPA formula, Vegepa, which has since helped thousands of people. Igennus are donating 50 pence per tub sold this week to the Children's Heart Federation, in order to help support the lives of children affected by a heart condition in the UK.

Cambridge, UK (PRWEB) June 11, 2009 -- In the wake of British Heart week (8-15th June), Dr Jav Nazemi - CEO of Igennus, manufacturer of purified omega-3 fish oil supplements - tells how his daughter's heart condition led to the start of his business and the omega-3 EPA formula, Vegepa, which has since helped thousands of people. Igennus are donating 50 pence per tub sold this week to the Children's Heart Federation, in order to help support the lives of children affected by a heart condition in the UK.

Diseases of the heart and circulatory system (cardiovascular disease or CVD) are the main cause of death in Europe, accounting for over 4.3 million deaths each year. (1) Heart disease is the UK's biggest killer, responsible for 39% of all deaths in 2002. (2) It is still the major cause of premature death (before the age of 65 years) in the UK, accounting for 35% of premature deaths in men and 27% in women in 2002. (3) For Dr Jav Nazemi and his family, the discovery that his daughter Roxana, 12 at the time, had a heart condition caused by the rare condition rheumatic fever, was a terrifying shock and one that would have unusual consequences.

Having gone undetected for some time, Roxana's heart condition was only diagnosed because blind spots in her eye perplexed her GP, who referred her onto a paediatrician; then discovering a murmur, Roxy was again referred, this time to a heart specialist from Harefield hospital.

It later became apparent that the blind spots and murmur were linked, since doctors discovered a problem with a valve in her heart, which had caused a blood clot. The clot had broken up and a part of it had settled on Roxana's optic nerve, and eventually led to a black spot which appeared intermittently in her vision. Unsure as to whether the clot had travelled elsewhere in the body, experts were concerned and so Roxana underwent further checks, including a brain scan to see if the clot had travelled to her brain, in order to rule out the possibility of a potentially fatal aneurysm.

Fortunately Roxana's scan was clear, although her heart valve had suffered irreparable damage. The exact condition is known as stenosis of the mitral valve, whereby the valve is both narrowed and unable to close properly. Although it has no immediate effect on health, eventually mitral valve stenosis can cause irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure or other complications, including stroke, heart infection, pulmonary edema, and blood clots. Roxana would face the ongoing risk that a clot could form again. At the young age of 12 she was told that she would need a life-long course of penicillin (to prevent a relapse of the throat infection which brought on rheumatic fever) and aspirin (to thin the blood).

Troubled at the idea of the associated risks of long-term reliance upon these drugs, Jav and his wife researched alternatives - including the use of a Harley Street naturopath - in a bid to do as much as they could to strengthen Roxana's heart and prevent further complications.

What now seems a tremendous bout of fate, Jav happened upon a friend who referred him to a doctor (now professor) at Hammersmith hospital, namely Dr Basant Puri. Then researching into the effects of cod liver oil, Dr Puri recommended that the omega-3s within the oil would thin the blood, helping the blood cells to be more flexible and less prone to clotting. This advice was in line with the American Heart Association's endorsement of omega-3 for people with a heart condition, since it lowered the risk of heart attack.

The benefits of oily fish for cardiovascular health were first revealed when scientists discovered that the Inuit population of Greenland suffered far less from coronary heart disease than their European counterparts despite their high-fat, high-cholesterol diet. Realising that their diet was high in polyunsaturated omega-3 fats, researchers looked further to see if this relationship was mere coincidence, and found that these omega-3s did indeed have a protective effect on cardiovascular health.

Since then scientists have further researched the role of omega-3 fatty acids in cardiovascular health and consistently found that higher intake of omega-3 fats protects against heart disease in several ways, including reducing atrial fibrillation. This condition affects the rhythmic pumping of blood in the lower ventricles of the heart so that the chambers 'quiver', reducing the effectiveness of the functioning of the heart as a pump.

Omega-3s also lower blood triglycerides (fatty deposits in the blood), making blood more fluid and less prone to clotting, and high doses are associated with positive increases in HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood, which removes plaque from the arteries.

Having always opted for the natural solution (a family utterly convinced by the immune-boosting properties of Echinacea and manuka honey!), Jav was encouraged by Dr Puri's advice. His interest in fish oil deepened from that point. "I wanted to learn everything there was to know about the properties of fish oil. If there was anything out there that could strengthen her heart and help her to avoid a heart operation in future, I was going to find it," said Dr Nazemi.

"My wife, Anne, had always been very clued up about complementary treatments, and with her scrupulous ability to research the internet we began a long process which, unusually, ended up with the discovery that there wasn't anything on the market that was quite what our daughter needed. We decided there and then that we would invest what we could into creating the supplement which would help Roxana, and indeed many others too."

During this time, Dr Puri's research evolved and it wasn't long before he was extolling the virtues of an active component within fish oil, a specific omega-3 fatty acid called EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Although another fatty acid in fish oil - DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) - is also known to be essential for health in its natural form in food, studies were showing that when combined in concentrated supplement form it was inhibiting the beneficial effects of EPA. Dr Puri, now Professor, and Head of the Lipid Neuroscience Department at Hammersmith Hospital, was and is still adamant that as the ratio of EPA to DHA in a supplement rises, so does its efficacy. "It was clear that EPA in its pure form, extracted from fish oil, would have to be sourced, in order to maximise the benefits," Jav added.

Further research refined the formulation, since the body requires a precise ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Generally, it is thought that we now have too many omega-6s (particularly from vegetable oils and red meat) in the Western diet and that the balance has shifted too far in favour of the omega-6 pathway. Scientists suggest that this shift is responsible for many problems, especially excess inflammation in the body. One specific type of omega-6, however, has potent anti-inflammatory properties, namely GLA (gamma linolenic acid) found in abundance in virgin evening primrose oil. Indeed omega-6s do have important roles in the body, regulating blood clotting, fluid balance, inflammation, as well as ensuring that cell membranes remain sufficiently permeable for optimum electrical messaging.

An interesting fact Jav came upon, which is still relatively unknown, is the presence of triterpenes within organic virgin evening primrose oil, but not in the refined type found on most health shop shelves. "These triterpenes are powerful free radical scavengers and have an important role in immune function - ideal for Roxana, we thought, since it might enable her to avoid a lifelong reliance on penicillin. After confirming the benefits of GLA with medical specialists, we were convinced that our formulation would have to include this unrefined type of evening primrose oil."

Igennus was born in 2003 and Vegepa was launched onto the market in 2004. Jav offered, "It would be accurate to say the company was a huge change in my career; I was taking a risk as this industry was completely new to me. I was certain, however, that I could make the benefits of EPA known, or at least that I'd do a good job trying. Knowing that here was a formulation which could help hundreds of thousands of people in Roxana's position, or worse, I was committed to taking the leap that was necessary in order to make Vegepa available to people."

Roxy, now 22, has just graduated with a degree in politics, and is in good health. Save for being advised not to compete in any long-distance running, Roxy leads a normal life and is intending to go travelling this summer.

The EPA story is only now really getting going. Numerous studies have been conducted into its clinical efficacy in conditions ranging from M.E. and depression, to dementia and ADHD. Omega fatty acids are an essential part of the diet, and each year we are discovering new applications for their use.

Visit Igennus for more information.


1. BHF statistics: Chapter 1: Mortality, European cardiovascular disease statistics 2008. Available:

2. Available:

3. British Nutrition Foundation, 2004. Heart Disease and Stroke (Cardiovascular Disease). Available:

This information is provided to assist with understanding only and should never be used as a substitute for professional medical opinion. Children's Heart Federation would advise you to consult a qualified healthcare professional before making any medical decisions or if you have questions about your individual medical situation.

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