Dr. Lynn Shumake, P.D.
Pharmacy & Nutrition Director
email: drshumake [at] nutrasportrx.com
A recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggests that omega-3 fatty acid intake can increase the risk of prostate cancer. Health media followed up this publication with various coverage and headlines stating “Fish oil linked to prostate cancer risk”.
This statement and subsequent news coverage refers to a recently published scientific trial (the SELECT trial – Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial) that was designed to examine the relationship between supplemental selenium, vitamin E and prostate cancer. The study was not designed to examine a relationship between fish oil and prostate cancer. Unfortunately, there are many flaws in this study that have not been adequately reported in the media. While the headline may not incite as much media attention, there’s a much larger body of scientific evidence supporting a role of fish oil supplements and dietary fatty fish intake in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, metabolic disease (diabetes), and other cancers.
When taken, vitamin E and selenium supplements are stored in your blood cell membranes; this was the blood measurement used in the SELECT trial. This measurement represents intake of these supplements over the past 48 hours – essentially, this was used to ensure that the supplements were being incorporated into the participants cells. As an aside, the authors used the same measurement method to assess omega-3 fat levels in the study participants. These participants were not provided with supplements, nor did the authors track information pertaining to supplemental fish oil or dietary fatty fish intake. The authors, however, came to the conclusion that the increased level of omega-3 fats (a minor .04 – .1% increase) found in the blood sample from the 834 study participants who developed prostate cancer, represented an increased risk of having prostate cancer. The conclusion was then drawn that dietary fish oil supplements are associated with an increased risk of developing prostate cancer. Clearly, the study was not appropriately designed to examine a cause and effect relationship between fish oil and prostate cancer. Instead, the authors should have reported that participants with and without prostate cancer have nearly identical levels of omega-3 fats in their cell membranes.
The vast majority of research on omega-3 fatty acids suggests that they are lacking in the modern American diet. It further describes that the deficiency of these fats are contributing to the rise in inflammatory-based diseases such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease (diabetes), cognitive decline, and certain cancers. Populations that traditionally consume the highest levels of omega-3 fats actually show the lowest incidences of the same diseases that Americans are suffering from. These fats are incorporated into your cells and, when needed, are converted into molecules that help resolve inflammation within the body. These same molecules are what help improve recovery from injury, whether it’s from exercise induced muscle damage or injury to your blood vessels that can set the stage for plaque formation.
NutraSport supports the idea that fish oils, both from supplements and dietary fatty fish intake, are an essential part of health maintenance and disease prevention. In combination with an active lifestyle and well-rounded anti-inflammatory diet, this approach is intended as a preventative measure and not a medicine for disease. Scientific research guides our decision-making and this recent study highlights the importance of being able to critically appraise and examine research. Our approach enables us to deliver you unbiased information based on sound science when developing individualized nutrition strategies.