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.