New Study: Will Omega-3s Boost Your Risk of Prostate Cancer?

29 04 2011

Two yesterdays ago, I said I was going to “post this tomorrow.” On one hand, that didn’t happen. On the other hand, a one-day delay is still more timely than usual for me, so I’m counting this as a blogging victory. Whip out the kazoos!

As some of you’ve already seen, a major study came out this week with some unexpected findings about DHA, an omega-3 fat abundant in fish. The study linked high blood levels of DHA to aggressive prostate cancer (and trans fats to lower prostate cancer rates). To date, it’s the biggest fat-and-prostate-cancer study of its kind—which makes these findings all the more peculiar. Given the widespread use of fish oil supplements for quelling inflammation and boosting cardiovascular health, it’s a little spooky to think DHA is really a double-edged sword. But is this study really a slam against fish fat?

This analysis wound up as a guest post for Mark’s Daily Apple, so head over there to read the full thing:

Overall, the study itself isn’t too shabby—and the researchers readily admitted their findings surprised them. But this study is far from a harbinger of doom for seafood lovers. The take-home points, and some additional thoughts:

  • Serum fatty acids aren’t a perfect mirror of diet—and the men with higher levels of DHA weren’t necessarily eating more fish. In fact, it seems low-fat diets can actually increase DHA status in the blood the same way omega-3 supplementation can.
  • The “highest levels of serum DHA” reported here were based on percentage of fatty acids—not absolute value. Here’s a great explanation of why percentage-based measurements may be misleading in studies like these.

Another major study, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, also found a slight (but non-statistically-significant) link between prostate cancer and DHA levels in the bloodbut at the same time, found zero association between dietary fish fat and the disease. And as I wrote in the post on Mark’s Daily Apple, nearly all previous studies have shown fish consumption to have either a neutral or protective association with prostate cancer. Blood levels of DHA and dietary intake don’t seem to follow the same pattern in relation to this disease.

That said: I’m pretty weary of long-term mega-dosing of fish oil for other reasons. Thanks to all their double bonds, omega-3s are relatively unstable and prone to oxidation, just like other polyunsaturated fats. It’s quite possible that the anti-inflammatory benefits appearing short term could eventually collide with a new set of problems that take longer to appear: those stemming from oxidative stress. Moderate supplementation probably won’t cause harm, but regularly taking huge doses of fish oil should probably be done with caution. The best strategy for achieving a great omega-3/omega-6 ratio is reducing your intake of high-omega-6 foods like grains and industrial oils, rather than simply chugging back more omega-3 to compensate.

Edit: Paul at Perfect Health Diet has a more technical discussion of omega-3s, angiogensis, and cancer that does make DHA seem a little fishy. Highly worth reading!








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