The Omega-3 Prostate Debacle
Heart Healthy Omega 3s Are Again Believed To Be Healthy for Prostate
Health research and the resultant published findings are confusing at best, and downright misleading at times. Such is the case with the recent findings for and against Omega-3 fatty acids.
On one hand, Omega-3 fatty acids are known to help a heart stay healthy, and new research says they be indeed help prostate cancer as well. Furthermore, scientists have long known that omega 3s reduce inflammation and have anti-diabetic effects. Yet on the other hand, a controversial research in 2013 said that high levels of these acids may be associated with the risk of prostate cancer. The 2013 study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that men with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had a greater risk of developing prostate cancer. It was not clear if the fatty acids came from food—certain fish, seeds and nuts are high in omega 3s—or supplements like fish oil.
The good news is that the latest research swings the pendulum positively back towards omega-3 fatty acids, suggesting they inhibit the growth and spread of prostate cancer cells, say scientists – challenging a 2013 study which claimed omega-3s increase the risk of prostate cancer by 71%.
In the 2013 study, researchers examined data from more than 3,400 men throughout the U.S. and found those with the highest blood percentages of docosahexaenoic acid were two and a half times more likely to develop prostate cancer than those with the lowest DHA levels. The research also showed that men with higher levels of unhealthy trans-fatty acids were at a lower risk of developing an aggressive prostate cancer. DHA is an inflammation-reducing omega-3 fatty found mostly in fish products, including fish oil supplements.
This research doesn’t make sense when you put it against the backdrop of everything we know about the health benefits of omega-3s and prostate cancer. Populations with the biggest intake of omega-3s from fish—such as the Eskimos, the Japanese, and the Inuits of Greenland—have some of the lowest incidences of prostate cancer. The health benefits of omega-3s are clear in Japan, where the incidence of prostate cancer is a full 10 times lower than it is in America.
The study found the risk of prostate cancer was 50 percent lower in men with the highest blood levels of trans-fatty acids, which are abundant in most processed foods. Trans-fatty acids are mostly associated with inflammation and heart disease. Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle said there is no link between prostate cancer and omega-6 fatty acids, but consumers should use caution and moderation when it comes to fatty acids.
So, Which Is It?
Opposing findings are not new. But here is yet another example of how health research works the media into a frenzy to get ratings. What doesn't get correlated is that, concurrent to the studies blasting supplements for omega 3's, and not even mentioning salmon as a possible cause, they were also publishing studies that showed stats suggesting that men who smoke have a significantly lower risk of prostate cancer than non-smokers. Wait, what?
And then—this gets better—they also "discovered" in the new study that the men who had the highest blood levels of trans fat had a 50 percent reduction in the risk of prostate cancer. Trans-Fat?! THE Trans-Fat? Research is intimating that trans fats could reduce the risk of prostate cancer? That's goofier than believing that omega-3 fats could increase the risk of prostate cancer. Bottom line appears to be that the Big Mac trumps the Miso Salmon. (Please note the tongue in cheek tone here).
The Bottom Line
Your body needs omega-3s for healthy blood pressure, arterial functioning, circulation, eye health, mental processing and more. In fact, omega-3s are called an “essential fatty acid” because your body requires them, but can’t manufacture them—you need to get them from food or supplements. Natural sources of omega-3s include fish, leafy greens, and some seed oils. Taking supplements is just as good, but it is important to be a conscientious consumer when buying supplements. The best omega-3 supplements are pure and contaminant free, come from a sustainable source, and are high in DHA. Algae and calamari oil benefits come from naturally high levels of DHA omega-3s, which are the best form of omega-3 for supporting a healthy body and mind.
Brasky, T. M., et al. Plasma Phospholipid Fatty Acids and Prostate Cancer Risk in the Select Trial. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. In press, 2013.
Brasky, T. M, et al. Serum phospholipid fatty acids and prostate cancer risk: results from the prostate cancer prevention trial. Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Jun 15; 173(12):1429-39.