by Tracy Shields - Recently, there’s been a study making its rounds on all the big media outlets claiming that omega-3s have been found to cause prostate cancer.
Because we take our products and industry very seriously, we immediately looked into it.
What will found might amaze you.
To begin with, much of the media are using the word “cause” instead of “association.” In the world of scientific research that makes a huge difference. Cause and effect is hugely different than two things that have an association. Cookies may be “associated with” increased risk of diabetes, but they do not “cause” diabetes. And how many cookies would be associated with diabetes? An association is not a cause.
Second, cardiologist Dr. David Becker, of Chestnut Hill Cardiology, provided us a detailed analysis of the study that made a lot less sense than you’d think. Bad fats like trans-fat have no correlation with increased cancer?! Good fats like omega-3 do? Here’s what he had to say:
The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute on July 10, 2013. The authors looked at men in a cancer prevention trial called SELECT. The purpose of the study was to examine the effects of selenium and vitamin E on prostate cancer. As part of the trial, they collected blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA and EPA, as well as trans-fat levels. The study did not measure consumption of fish oil or fish; they looked at blood levels of fatty acids.
They also compared 893 men with prostate cancer to 1393 men who did not have prostate cancer. They found the following: 1) higher blood levels of omega-3 PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids, considered anti- inflammatory) were found in the blood of men with prostate cancer; 2) trans-fat (considered inflammatory) had no correlation with increased cancer; and 3) alpha lineolic fatty acids (omega-6 PUFA, usually considered inflammatory) were associated with lower risk of prostate cancer.
The authors concluded that there is an increased risk of prostate cancer in men with higher blood levels of omega-3.
This may not be true. Association is not the same as causation. There is no evidence that omega 3 fatty acids caused prostate cancer, only that high levels of PUFA were associated with cancer. Much more research is needed to see why high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood are associated with prostate cancer, especially as most research has shown them to be anti-inflammatory.
Lastly, the trouble with debunking anything is that you have to believe in it to debunk it. Or rather, you have to take the study or the information surrounding the study seriously enough to expend the energy to try to argue against it.
But the truth is, after reading all—and I mean every bit of direct and indirect commentary available on this study—I came up with the rather bland conclusion that the jury is still out. This is yet another case of inconclusive evidence that the media hype as definitive because, heck, it sounds better to report something that is definitive.
Anyway, you might want to rethink flushing all your fish oil down the toilet. Those little gold capsules have a much better chance of saving your life than anything else. How do I know? Nearly 40 years of definitive research tells me so.
Oh yes, and Dr. Becker offers some advice of his own:
The relative benefits of fish, and high-quality fish-oil supplementation to prevent heart disease—as an anti-inflammatory and to lower triglycerides—outweigh the appropriate concerns raised by this trial. Omega-3 fatty-acids have been the focus of many studies done in the past few years. Most show a benefit. More data is needed before we can conclude that association equals causation. The quote by one of the study authors, Dr. Alan Kristal, that “we’ve shown once again that the use of nutritional supplements may be harmful” suggests an agenda by the researchers that is not helpful to this ongoing research.