Did you hear about the recent study completed at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that suggested a link between taking high doses of omega-3 fish oil and prostate cancer? If you did, I am sure you were alarmed. I know I was as this is one supplement I have recommended to many people in the name of good health. I have shared the reported benefits of fish oil that have been born out of numerous studies when dispensing health care advice. Now we have one study that has many people questioning their use of fish oil. Men are asking themselves, “Oh my gosh, have I unknowingly increased my risk of getting prostate cancer?”
Let’s first look at what the benefits of taking fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids are based on sound scientific research. The reported health benefits may include improvement in mood, joint function, heart, and brain health. It is also reported to help with skin, hair, nails, and decreasing inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids have even been shown to have potential benefit in both prostate and breast cancer as well. That is right. Life Extension Foundation gave an example that quoted, “an analysis of omega-3 consumption and prostate cancer by Szymanski in 2010 reported a large reduction in late stage or fatal prostate cancer among cohort studies and a new meta-analysis by Zheng this year of 16 independent cohort studies involving over 16,000 breast cancer events and more than 527,000 participants, showed a significant inverse relationship between EPA+DHA levels and risk of breast cancer”. So now what are you to believe when reports come out contradicting previously beneficial studies?
Let me just say that any research study can manipulate the data in such a way to show positive or negative outcomes. This makes it challenging for the consumer and even for health professionals to get to the heart of the research. Dr. Steven Joyal, M.D., from the Life Extension Foundation recently refuted the study that suggested a link between fish oil use and prostate cancer. In the study reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, men’s omega-3 levels were checked at the beginning of the study, but not throughout the study. In what is known as the SELECT Trial (Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention) reporting these results, men’s diets were never looked at. So it is hard to know what other variables may have impacted the findings. Additionally there was no clear indication that these men’s omega-3 consumption was measured or followed throughout the study. So to leap to a conclusion that there is a link between omega-3 consumption and prostate cancer is irresponsible. A study that more closely targets and follows these key measures would be a more responsible way to answering this question. The unfortunate consequence of this study is you will now likely have men stopping their consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and will therefore be missing out on all the health benefits that have been published in many other previous studies. It is always best to obtain our nutrients through diet first. It is often difficult to get all of our nutrients fully through diet and that is where supplementation may be called for. In either case diet and supplementation should be undertaken in moderation and not to excess.