You may have seen the report that came out last week about fish oil raising your risk of prostate cancer. After all the positive news about fish oil we’ve seen in recent years, this report may come as a surprise. So what should you do about fish oil? Continue taking it - or stop?
There is growing concern that overdosing on fish oil can be unhealthy. My good friend and colleague, Robert Rowen, MD, was the first to put forth the controversial idea that fish oil isn’t the panacea everyone thinks it is. So does this study confirm Dr. Rowen’s position? I don’t think it does.
Let’s look at the study. The researchers conducting this study did not set out to examine the effects of fish oil on prostate cancer. The results came out of a study on selenium and vitamin E. They started out by looking at 834 men with diagnosed prostate cancer. Of these, 156 had high grade cases. The researchers compared this group to another 1,393 men they randomly selected but matched to age and race.
They found that men in the highest quartile of fish oil consumption had a 44% increased risk of low-grade prostate cancer, a 71% increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer, and a 43% overall increased risk for any prostate cancer. Sounds very convincing. Here are the problems:
- This was an associative study only. The study was actually on vitamin E and selenium. The researchers did not set out to study cause and effect of fish oil consumption. That means their results are suspect as to the controls they used.
- There is no evidence that the participants actually took fish oil supplements.
- The test subjects were at higher risk for prostate cancer. Many of their doctors had told them to increase their EPA and DHA levels.
- They measured plasma amounts of fatty acids. Those readings will fluctuate with the last meal they consumed. A single fish oil dose results in a 100% increase in plasma omega-3 levels. A better indicator is the red blood cell level of fatty acids. That measures consumption over the past four to six weeks.
- The difference in the plasma fatty acid levels in the prostate cancer group versus the non-prostate cancer group was .2% (4.66% in the combined cancer group versus 4.48% in the control). That's virtually no difference.
- If you look at the data, it appears that non-smokers had more aggressive prostate cancer and that non-drinkers were at a higher risk for prostate cancer. So should you start smoking and drink more? Of course not! It just shows the major flaws in this study.
Other studies - and these were studies specifically designed to show the impact of fish oil on prostate cancer - have found just the opposite effect. In fact, many studies have found that fish oil prevents prostate cancer.
One thing that is fairly consistent in all the reports: Tainted, altered, or rancid oils almost always contribute to health problems. Add salt, smoke (as in smoked fish), oxidation, or any other alteration, and the fish oil ceases to be healthy.
Dr. Rowen brings up an important question in his observations. That question is whether you can take too much fish oil or not. The simple answer is - of course you can. You can overdose on just about anything. The harder answer is knowing where that line falls with fish oil. Most studies show that eating fish is healthy. Even Dr. Rowen, a devout vegetarian, concedes that fish is good for you if it comes from cold, non-contaminated, non-farmed waters. That means trout and salmon for most of us.
We also know that omega-3 fatty acids are good for you. The problem comes when we overload our body with them. If you’re taking fish oil, consider how much flaxseed, fish, and other omega-3 sources you’re eating on a regular basis. If you’re eating enough of these, then you may not need a supplement (remember, supplements are what you add to your diet to make up for a deficiency).
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If you're not getting enough omega-3s in your diet, then you should continue to supplement with a high-quality omega-3 supplement like Daily Omega. If you're a vegan or just concerned about taking too much fish oil, then consider a plant-based formula like Advanced EFA Formula. The controversial study that came out last week didn't find any connection between plant omega-3s and prostate cancer, so you might be more comfortable taking this formula - especially if you have other risk factors for prostate cancer.
Your insider for better health,
Steve Kroening is the editor of Nutrient Insider, a twice-a-week email newsletter that brings you the latest healing breakthroughs from the world of nutrition and dietary supplements. For over 20 years, Steve has worked hand-in-hand with some of the nation's top doctors, including Drs. Robert Rowen, Frank Shallenberger, Nan Fuchs, William Campbell Douglass, and best-selling author James Balch. Steve is the author of the book Practical Guide to Home Remedies. As a health journalist, Steve's articles have appeared in countless magazines, blogs, and websites.