Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Increase the Risk of Prostate Cancer?
The topic of omega-3s and prostate cancer risk has been in the news lately. The stories are based on a new study in the Journal National Cancer Institute that found that higher Omega-3 fatty acid levels were associated with increased risk of prostate cancer. After reviewing the research with well-known Omega-3 expert Bill Harris, PhD, we continue to advocate the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids either through food or supplements. Here’s our take on the study:
- Omega-3 fish oil is clinically proven to improve heart health and support brain function.
- The investigators did not test whether giving fish oil supplements (or eating more fish) increased prostate cancer risk; it looked only at blood levels of Omega-3 which can be influenced by intake, other dietary factors, metabolism and genetics.
- The findings of this study do not mean that Omega-3’s themselves play any role in the development of prostate cancer. For example, it is possible that some component of the fish these patients was consuming was carcinogenic, in which case the Omega-3 levels were just a marker of specific fish intake.
- It’s important to put these findings into perspective. Consider that based on the National Vital Statistics Report for deaths in the US in 2010, there we about 28,500 deaths from prostate cancer and 207,500 deaths from heart disease, a 7.3 times rate of death for heart disease.
- Another piece of the picture is to compare prostate cancer rates in Japan vs. the US. According to the World Foundation of Urology, prostate cancer incidence in North America and Northern Europe is 63 per 100,000 white men and 102 per 100,000 African-American men. In Japan the rate is 10 per 100,000 men. Since the Japanese typically eat about eight times more Omega-3 fatty acids than Americans do and their blood levels are twice as high, you’d think their prostate cancer risk would be much higher, but the opposite is the case.
In conclusion, the benefit of fish oils strongly outweigh the possible risks and we would not encourage men to change their diet as a result of this study, but to speak to their doctor if they have any concerns about prostate cancer.