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Everyone knows that consuming fish oil, in supplements or eating certain fatty fish, is good for you. It helps reduce risk of heart disease, among other things (at least we are told). In 1996, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued a scientific advisory and in 2000 more information was shared with the public, “Large-scale epidemiologic studies suggest that people at risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) benefit from consuming omega-3 fatty acids from plants and marine sources. Although the ideal amount to take is not firmly established, evidence from prospective secondary prevention studies suggests that intakes of EPA+DHA ranging from 0.5 to 1.8 grams per day (either as fatty fish or supplements) significantly reduce the number of deaths from heart disease and all causes.” (American Heart Association )

Check. Take fish oil supplements to reduce risk of heart attack.

An article in US News, Too Much Fish Oil Might Boost Prostate Cancer Risk, Study Says, shares finding from a new study that may cause you to rethink the wisdom of the AHA recommendations. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute is reporting new findings associated with the consumption of previously recommended Omega-3 fatty acids. Citing two earlier studies, the article states that eating large amounts of oily fish or taking omega-3 supplements may increase the risk of prostate cancer for men.

According to lead researcher, Theodore Brasky, a research assistant professor at Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center in Columbus, “These anti-inflammatory omega-3s were associated with a 43 percent increased risk for prostate cancer overall, and a 71 percent increased risk in aggressive prostate cancer.”

The study did not prove that the omega-e fatty acids were directly responsible for prostate cancer. The researchers looked at data from a different study on the effects of Vitamin E and Selenium in cancer prevention—it included 800 men who developed prostate cancer and 1400 men who did not. The results are hypothesis, based on what happened to these 2200 men. More rigorous studies will need to be done.

“The investigators found that men eating the most fatty fish and taking the most fish oil supplements had an overall 43 percent increase in risk for all prostate cancer, compared with men eating the least fish or taking the fewest supplements. The risk for aggressive prostate cancer was 71 percent higher; for non-aggressive prostate cancer, the risk was 44 percent greater.” (US News)

We are left with an unnerving conclusion, from analyzed data, which may or may not be fully accurate in making a cause-effect relationship. But clearly there is some risk involved in fish oil consumption.

One interesting fact noted in the article may be useful for men who have been worried about heart disease. “Although omega-3 fatty acids have been touted as beneficial to heart patients, results of a study published May 9 in the New England Journal of Medicine found they didn’t live up to the claims. In that study, Italian researchers reported that omega-3 fatty acid supplements did not reduce death from heart disease, heart attacks or strokes in people with risk factors for heart disease.” (US News)

It is disconcerting to learn that your attempt to ward off heart disease might be putting you at risk for another potentially deadly disease. What should you do next? Talk to your physician. She can advise you, based on your specific risk for heart disease. If you’re just taking supplements because it seems like the ‘right’ thing to do, this might be the time to cut back until more is known. See your doctor.


  1. Gravatar for Dr Dave

    Would you please catch up with the news. This study is over a month old and has already been thoroughly debunked. Stop spreading misinformation!

  2. Gravatar for Non-Doctor Alex

    DrDAVE- Telling people that this study has been debunked is not responsible. While there are many question marks unanswered, the medical field is at very least at odds with itself over the findings. Dr. Marc Seigel for example says that while the threat is certainly not proven, there does seems to be a correlation that is not just poor science.

    My OWN doctors have since said that eating more than 2 servings of fatty fish per week may be risky, and I don't even take supplemets.

    So the truth is no one knows for sure and it will likely be a decade before they do.

  3. Gravatar for Dr Dave

    there is nothing irresponsible about my comment. It is irresponsible to use a poorly done study with a false premise as the basis to say "more studies must be done." The Brasky study had the following flaws: 1) It was a sub group analysis-part of the Select Trail and not an independent study 2) The actual levels of Omega 3's varied by 0.2 percent in all the cancer group and the non cancer group. The biologic variation is 5%. The group concluded these values were statistically significant. How could they be. 3) The amount of supplementation (if there even was any which is called into question by the extremely low levels) was not enough to cause a variation between these men and the national average which is between 18 and 22%. 4) The levels attained by these men were also no where near the levels attained in societies where these diseases are far rarer than ours. 5) There was no factoring in smoking, obesity or other concomittant risk factors for prostate ca and we do not know who had prostate ca already at the time of the sampling. 6) The conclusions of the lead author Dr Brasky were: "We have once again proven supplements are dangerous... and... People should be taking in foods that have more Omega 6's. Neither of those conclusions were even tested as part of the study.

    You may chose to call it irresponsible if you like but I don't see one logical basis for your remark. As to the comments of people who are "repeating the party line: be cautious and do what the AHA and other alphabet agencies tell you to do" I find that a disservice to the public and an easy out the "voice of reason" is not supported by the data. People comment about the possibility of increased bleeding and increased infections. There is no human data to support either of these things. If you take a highly inflammed person and you reduce their NK activity 40% or the T cell activity gets reduced it is most likely because that segment of their immune system has been over activated. Not one of those studies reported increased infections so that conclusion is bad science. Similarly with the "bleeding risk". Doctors are now using fish oil with clopidegrel and other anti-platelet agents with no increased bleeding. A study in cardiac bypass in people who took fish oil showed no increased bleeding risks. If you the doctors you mention to show you the studies I will be happy to pick them apart for you. Bad science is bad science especially when it gets national attention and creates discussion where none should be. If there were actual reasons to use Brasky's study to do more research other than it caused an irresponsible response from the media and a "play it safe and say what your supposed to" response from the medical community I would be happy to give it its due. My suggestion to you is go to Pub MEd and type in "prostate cancer omega 3" and see how many studies come up that back up what is being said by the people you listen to. Do it yourself and then go to them and ask them to explain their concerns and refute the weight of scientific evidence you will find. Or better yet read a book by one of the primary researchers in the field called "Fish omega 3 and human health" and then give all your doctors that you listen to a copy so they can become real experts. Best, Dr Dave

  4. Gravatar for Non-Doctor Alex

    Dr Samadi is a leading prostate doctor.

  5. Gravatar for Dr Dave

    Alex if I had the time desire and energy to waste I could put up 10 or more links to youtube and other places where experts will tell you the study is BS and people who are spending time on it are just being manipulated including the great and wonderful experts who fell for the word "cancer" and feel compelled to do more research. You will never go onto pub med and search prostate cancer and fish oil. You will never get the book I recommended so I will not bother . Best of luck and by all means keep on believing!. Dr Dave

  6. Gravatar for Non-Doctor Alex

    You aren't reading my comments well enough. I am NOT taking a side. YOU SAID the study has been debunked, and I posted videos links proving that there were still plenty of concerns about the study in both directions. Dr. Samadi is one of the leading prostate doctors in the world, so if that isn't proof that the study is not "debunked" then I don't know what would be.

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