Have the latest news reports on fish oil and prostate cancer caused you to be confused and concerned?
For me, it has led to frustration and fatigue from having to do a significant amount of damage control.
Making matters worse is that this need for damage control is due primarily to the irresponsibility of the media in their successful attempt to grab headlines without critically reading the scientific study by Brasky et al. before drawing conclusions.
Here’s an Example of Some of the Headlines:
“Fish oil may raise prostate cancer risk, study confirms” -NBC News
“Taking Omega 3 supplements may increase the risk of prostate cancer” -Daily Mail
“Men might want to shun fish oils, study shows” -Seattle Times
I presume the biggest lesson learned from the whole thing is that if you listen and apply health information delivered by the media, you may be reducing your chances of a long, healthy life.
OK, I’ll step off my soapbox now. Let’s dig into this and separate fact from fiction.
The Flawed, Recent Study
In the new analysis, researchers measured the levels of fats in the blood (plasma phospholipids) and concluded that men with the highest concentrations of EPA, DPA and DHA-three fatty acids derived from fish and fish-oil supplements had an increased risk of prostate cancer.
Specifically, they reported a 71 percent increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer; a 44 percent increase in the risk of low-grade prostate cancer and an overall 43 percent increase in risk for total prostate cancer in a subset of patients with the highest level of these omega-3 fatty acids.
Dr. Alan Krystal, one of the authors of the study had this to say:
“As we do more and more of these studies – and I have been involved in them most of my career – I find high doses of supplements have no effect or increase the risk of the disease you’re trying to prevent. There is not really a single example of where taking a supplement lowers disease risk.”
Dr. Krystal exemplifies the concept of bias here. These researchers were quick to blame dietary supplements, even though there is no evidence that anyone in this study consumed fish or fish oils from dietary supplements.
In fact, the study demonstrates no cause and effect; it can only purport to show an association between higher plasma levels of omega-3 fatty acids and those whom the researchers advise us had an increased rate of prostate cancer.
In usual circumstances, plasma levels of EPA and DHA reflect very recent intake and are considered a poor biomarker of long-term omega-3 intake. Fish and fish oil ingestion produces a big rise in plasma omega-3 levels in about 4.5 hours and washes out around 48 hours.
Biologically, there is no plausible reason to suspect that too much omega-3 could cause cancer.
In fact, a plethora of studies that rank higher in the totem pole of evidence show mostly protective effects from the consumption of Omega-3’s:
- Researchers investigated the effect of dietary fatty fish intake among 6,272 Swedish men who were followed for 30 years. Results showed that men who ate no fish had a two- to three-fold increase in the risk of developing prostate cancer, compared with those who consumed large amounts of fish in their diet.
- Data from the Physician’s Health Study, a study spanning 22 years, found that fish consumption (≥5 times per week) reduced the risk of dying from prostate cancer by 36 percent.
- A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health that involved 47,882 men over 12 years found that eating fish more than three times a week reduced the risk of prostate cancer but had an even greater impact on the risk of metastatic prostate cancer. For each additional 500 mg of marine fat consumed, the risk of metastatic disease decreased by 24 percent.
- In one of the best-designed studies, researchers in New Zealand examined the relationship between prostate cancer risk and EPA+ DHA in red blood cells (a more reflective marker for long-term omega-3 fatty acid intake). Higher levels of EPA+DHA were associated with a 40 percent reduced risk of prostate cancer.
- In a study of 47,866 US men aged 40-75 years with no cancer history in 1986 who were followed for 14 years EPA+DHA intake at the highest levels was associated with a 26 percent reduced risk of developing prostate cancer.
What Should You Do?
Firstly, understand what not to do:
- DO NOT consume fried fish as regular ingestion of fried fish was associated with a 32 percent increased risk for prostate cancer.
- DO NOT consume fish or fish oils high in contain environmental chemicals that can contribute to prostate cancer such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals, and other toxic chemicals.
- DO NOT eat fish high in mercury including: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish (sometimes called golden bass or golden snapper)
- DO NOT listen to the media for health advice
Then understand what to do:
- Eat one to two 3-ounce servings of fatty fish a week—salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, or sardines.
- PCBs collect in the fatty parts of fish. You can take these steps to reduce PCB risks when cooking salmon, bluefish, and other fatty fish:
- Trim away fatty areas such as the belly, top of the back, and dark meat along the side.
- Remove or puncture the skin before cooking to allow fat to drain off.
- Broil, or steam the fish on a rack to allow fat to drain.
- Throw away fat drippings. Don’t use them in other cooking.
- Limit consumption of farmed raised fish.
- Wild salmon is safer low in mercury and PCB’s but a little more pricy.
- Consume high quality fish oil supplements from reputable manufacturers.
What About Supplements?
An August 22, 2012 press release by Consumerlab.com entitled, “Contamination and Other Problems Found in Fish Oil Supplements,” claimed only four of 35 omega 3 supplements tested exceeded contaminations limits for PCBs. (Mercury was not detected in any of the products).
The pollutant connection argues not for avoidance of fish and omega 3 supplements, but rather for more careful product selection.
Just like not all restaurants (or wines or athletes, etc.) are created equally, neither are dietary supplements, such as fish oil.
In closing, most of my patients and many of you are taking a total of 2 grams of EPA / DHA twice per day. This is a dosage is safe and effective in protecting your body from unwanted cells and cardiovascular risk.
It is always worth pointing out that fish oils combined with a poor diet does not improve your prognosis.
Alternatively, fish oils combined with a good plant-based diet and daily exercise will significantly help you rebuild your health and reduce your risk of all-cause mortality.
Do not be misled by faulty research and sensationalized headlines. Be smart, and be choosy on which sources of information you trust (or even pay attention to these days).
It can be exhausting to wade through the noise, but it is critical to your health and well-being that you do so.
Always Select a Quality Supplement
Scientists have established the effectiveness of Omega 3 in a number of health areas, including your Heart, Brain, Joints, Skin, Immune system, Vision, and Digestion.
Like any product on the market today there are ‘good fish oils’ and there are ‘bad fish oils’! With a bad one you may be unwittingly introducing substances into your body that you DO NOT want… such as Mercury and PCB’s for example.
We impose tougher standards on the purity of our fish oil than any other known manufacturer. DHA is the most important fatty acid in the human brain.
High in DHA and proven to be pure and free of contaminants the Xtend-Life brand is considered to be the ‘Rolls Royce’ of concentrated Omega 3 fish oils at an affordable cost and has been enjoyed by thousands of customers in more than 40 countries for the last eight years.
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