I’ve had an onslaught of emails from the men in my practice after the headline this week of prostate cancer being associated with higher levels of omega 3’s. So what’s the breakdown of this particular study and the take home message?
Let’s break it down. Since we are in the information age, new studies are published on a daily basis. An important thing to know as with anything in life – there are different types of research studies, and authors can conclude things based on associations they see, which don’t necessarily show cause and effect.
The most accurate studies are those which are called randomized, placebo controlled double blind studies, in which a certain substance is studied and neither the researcher or the patient knows which one they are receiving to try to avoid bias and skewing of results.
Since this particular study is in conflict with other studies that have shown a positive effect and since it was not a randomized study we need to look more closely at the specifics.
This study was actually not a study in itself but the information was extracted from a larger previous conducted trial. The authors did not assess any of the participants’ dietary intakes of fatty fish or omega-3 supplements.
The study’s conclusions were based wholly on the results of ONE single blood test.
One thing I talk about on a regular basis is the importance of looking at things over time. One day your cholesterol level may be 220 and on another day a week later it might be 190 – quite a difference but our lives change on a daily basis. Some days we get more rest, exercise, are more stressed, etc. and these factors influence blood tests.
So to measure the level of omega 3?s in someone’s blood on a given day shows very little and to extrapolate that to causing prostate cancer is more than irresponsible.
In addition – some other interesting data: 53% of the subjects with prostate cancer were smokers, 64% regularly consumed alcohol, and 80% were overweight or obese.
Considering the multiple body of research on omega 3’s and their anti-inflammatory effects, there is no credible reason or mechanism that would explain why omega 3’s would cause tumors.
One final point is that the author’s did not look at the quality of what anyone was eating or supplements taken. Were they eating a clean unprocessed diet? What type of omega 3 supplements were they taking – ones that are quality or those with less DHA/EPA or more mercury or PCB?s?
All unanswered questions which lead to one conclusion: it is premature and unnecessary to stop taking your omega 3 supplements and/or eating fish given all the healthful benefits of omega 3 fats: lowering insulin resistance, heart disease, arthritis, preventing Alzheimer’s, etc.
So in my opinion based on the plethora of research that points to omega 3 fats lowering inflammation I recommend you continue to take your omega 3’s.
If you want to lower your risk of prostate cancer, discontinue other unhealthy behaviors if they apply to you such as stopping smoking, lowering your intake of alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight.