Debunking Study Claims Omega-3 Fats Raise Prostate Cancer Risk
By Dr. Mercola
Omega-3 rich fish oil is one of the most well-researched substances on
the market. Its wide ranging health benefits have been repeatedly
proven, and animal-based omega-3 is one of the few supplements I
recommend for virtually everyone to improve overall health.
But omega-3 fat, naturally found in salmon and krill, which are both
excellent sources, has received some undeservedly bad press coverage
lately. You may have seen some of the following headlines:
Link Between Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Increased Prostate Cancer Risk
Confirmed (Science Daily1)
Omega-3 Supplement Taken By Millions 'Linked to Aggressive Prostate
Cancer' (Huffington Post2)
Men who take omega-3 supplements at 71% higher risk of prostate cancer
(NY Daily News3)
Omega-3 supplements may trigger prostate cancer (Nursing Times4)
Hold the salmon: Omega-3 fatty acids linked to higher risk of cancer
These headlines are perfect examples of gross misreporting of science by
the media, and it is instances like this that demonstrate why you cannot
trust the conventional press to keep you informed about health. In the
words of Jonny Bowden,6 PhD, CNS, the media’s reporting on this
particular study is “disgraceful, incompetent, and scientifically
illiterate.” I couldn’t agree more.
'Omega-3 Fats Involved in Prostate Tumorigenesis,' Researchers Claim
The study raising all this hoopla was published in the Journal of the
National Cancer Institute7 on July 10. This case-cohort study8 examined
associations between omega-3 levels in blood and prostate cancer risk
among participants in the "Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention
Trial," also known as SELECT.9
The researchers concluded that men with higher blood concentrations of
animal-based (marine-derived) omega-3s had a 44 percent increased risk
of developing low-grade prostate cancer compared to those with the
Specifically, higher blood levels of the omega-3 fat DHA correlated to
higher prostate cancer risk, while no correlation was found for EPA and
ALA. They also had a 71 percent higher risk of developing high-grade
The “grade” refers to the level of abnormality found in the cancer
cells.10 The more abnormal the cells appear, the higher the grade of the
cancer. Based on these correlations, the researchers concluded that
“these fatty acids are involved in prostate tumorigenesis.” But just how
did they reach that conclusion?
According to Time Magazine:11
“The study measured omega-3 blood levels in the participating men, and
did not include information on the volunteers’ eating habits, so
researchers could not differentiate between the effects of fatty acids
from fish from those of supplements. However, the overwhelming majority
of the participants did not take fish oil supplements.
Based on the results, [lead author, Theodore] Brasky says that men with
a family history of prostate cancer should discuss with their doctor
whether fish oil supplements are safe for them, since these pills tend
to contain concentrated doses of omega-3.
Supplements contain between 30% to 60% of a serving of fish, and if a
fish oil supplement is taken every day, that adds up to a lot of daily
fish oil. Brasky also suggested that men cut down on their fatty fish
intake, though not eliminate it entirely.”
Folks, this is some of the most absurd advice I’ve seen in a long time.
How they could possibly come to the conclusion that omega-3 supplements
might be dangerous based on this study is a mystery in and of itself.
Correlation is not the same as causation, first of all.
Secondly, no omega-3 supplements were actually given in this study. In
fact, most participants reportedly did not take them. Another immediate
tip-off that something’s awry is the finding that participants who had
the highest levels of trans fats in their blood had the lowest risk for
prostate cancer... As Dr. Bowden writes in his Huffington Post12
“How do you explain the fact that reporter after reporter and news
outlet after news outlet conveniently equated higher blood levels of DHA
with 'fish oil supplement taking?'
There’s almost no other explanation other than a strong anti-supplement
bias and a desire for shocking headlines. And any doubt about the
objectivity of the researchers should have been abandoned after one of
them—Dr. Alan Kristy—told reporters,13 'We’ve shown once again that use
of nutritional supplements may be harmful.'”
Indeed, Dr. Kristy sounds like a spokesperson for Senator Durbin’s
hypocritically idiotic supplement bill, which threatens the supplement
industry by granting the FDA more power to regulate supplements as if
they were drugs, potentially putting supplement companies out of
Do Omega-3s Raise Men’s Prostate Cancer Risk? Hardly!
Foods rich in omega-3 fats have previously been shown to prevent
prostate cancer from spreading. One such clinical study (opposed to the
featured study, which was observational and therefore cannot establish
causality) was published in the British Journal of Cancer14 in 2006.
This study found that while omega-6 fats (the kind found in most
vegetable oils) increased the spread of prostatic tumor cells into bone
marrow, the spread of cancer cells was blocked by omega-3 fats,
suggesting that a diet rich in omega-3 fats could potentially inhibit
the disease in men with early stage prostate cancer.
A more recent meta-analysis15 of available research, published in 2010,
found that fish consumption was associated with a 63 percent reduction
in prostate cancer-specific mortality, even though no association
between fish consumption and a significant reduction in prostate cancer
incidence could be found. GreenMedInfo.com16 recently discussed this
topic as well, listing a number of additional studies that have shown
fish/fish oil/omega-3 to be beneficial against prostate cancer.
As pointed out by Denise Minger,17 previous research18 has shown that
the higher blood levels of DHA found in the featured study is not
necessarily indicative of higher fish consumption. In fact, low-fat
diets can increase DHA levels in much the same way omega-3
supplementation can. According to previous research:
“Plasma phospholipid fatty acids have the potential to function as a
surrogate measure of the potential effects of diet on a whole range of
cell membrane lipids... This difference in fatty acid levels after the
consumption of similar proportions but varied content of fatty acids
suggests competition among the lipid series [(n-3), (n-6), (n-7) and
(n-9)] for the enzymes of elongation and desaturation.
When the relative supply of (n-3) fatty acids is abundant, these fatty
acids are preferentially desaturated and elongated relative to (n-6)
In summary... free fatty acid compositions are responsive to total
dietary fat content. Specifically, the consumption of a low fat diet
promotes an increase in the level of total and highly unsaturated
long-chain (n-3) fatty acids and a decrease in the total (n-6) content
of plasma phospholipid and cholesteryl ester fatty acids. The observed
modifications in phospholipid and cholesteryl ester fatty acids in
response to a low fat diet are similar to those observed when (n-3)
fatty acids of plant or animal origin are fed.”
Why DHA Levels in Featured Study May Be Meaningless...
Furthermore, the featured study reported DHA levels based on percentage
of total fatty acids rather than the absolute value, which in and of
itself can be quite misleading,19 as it actually obscures any real
differences. Dr. Bowden illustrates the dilemma well with the following
“Would you like 90 percent of all the money Mr. Jones has or 10 percent
of all the money Mr. Smith has?”
How could you possibly tell how much money those percentages of total
represent, unless you know how much money Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith each
have to begin with? As explained in a 2009 commentary published in the
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,20 the only time percentage of
total might be meaningful is when the total fatty acid content is
identical for all subjects, which it undoubtedly was not in this case.
As stated by Dr. Bob Roundtree, MD:21
“Considering the extensive body of literature that supports the
anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids, there is no credible
biological mechanism, nor is one suggested in the article, that would
explain why these essential fatty acids might increase tumorigenesis.”
Confounding Factors Ignored
Another problem with studies looking at correlations only, is that the
factor you’re looking at may only be a minor player, or completely
irrelevant, compared to other factors. For example, in this case:22
53 percent of the subjects with prostate cancer were smokers
64 percent of the cancer subjects regularly consumed alcohol
80 percent of the cancer subjects were overweight or obese
According to a 2011 study published in PLoS One,23 aggressive prostate
cancer was associated with obesity. More recently, a cohort study
published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention24 in April of
this year found that men who were overweight or obese increased their
risk of prostate cancer by 57 percent—a percentage that falls right
smack in the middle of that 44-71 percentage range attributed to high
DHA serum levels in the featured study. And this association between
obesity and prostate cancer held for all cases— low-grade and
high-grade, early stage and late, nonaggressive and aggressive prostate
Krill Oil vs. Fish Oil: What's the Better Source?
From my perspective, based on medical experience and overwhelming
scientific evidence, making sure you’re getting enough omega-3 in your
diet, either from wild Alaskan salmon or a high-quality omega-3
supplement like krill oil, is absolutely crucial for your optimal
health. While a helpful form of omega-3 can be found in flaxseed, chia,
hemp, and a few other foods, the most beneficial form of omega-3 --
containing two fatty acids, DHA and EPA, which are essential to fighting
and preventing both physical and mental disease -- can only be found in
fish and krill.25
Unfortunately, nearly all fish, from most all sources, are now severely
contaminated with toxic mercury, which is why I have amended my previous
recommendations to consume fish on a routine basis. It's simply not
advisable for most people any longer. About the only exception to this
rule is wild-caught Alaskan salmon. This is really the ONLY fish I’ll
eat on a regular basis, and the only one I feel comfortable recommending
as a good source of healthful fats. AVOID farmed salmon, as they contain
only about half of the omega-3 levels of wild salmon. Farmed salmon may
also contain a range of harmful contaminants, including environmental
toxins, synthetic astaxanthin, and genetically engineered organisms from
the grain feed they’re given.
My latest recommendation for a source of high quality omega-3 fats is
krill oil. The omega-3 in krill is attached to phospholipids that
increase its absorption, which means you need less of it, and it won't
cause belching or burping like many other fish oil products.
Additionally, it naturally contains astaxanthin, a potent
antioxidant—almost 50 times more than is present in fish oil. This
prevents the highly perishable omega-3 fats from oxidizing before you
are able to integrate them into your cellular tissue. In laboratory
tests, krill oil remained undamaged after being exposed to a steady flow
of oxygen for 190 hours. Compare that to fish oil, which went rancid
after just one hour. That makes krill oil nearly 200 times more
resistant to oxidative damage compared to fish oil!
When purchasing krill oil, you'll want to read the label and check the
amount of astaxanthin it contains. The more the better, but anything
above 0.2 mg per gram of krill oil will protect it from rancidity.
fish oil supplements
The Bible and Your
for Prostate Cancer - Health and Fitness
Get appropriate amounts of animal-based omega-3 fats such as krill oil
or fish oil, and reduce your intake of poor quality, processed omega-6
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Also try fish oil supplements to lower your inflammation. Inflammation
equals pain so every step you take to combat it, will lower general
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