We have been learning for some time that the “supplements culture” may not be all that it has been made out to be, in fact that many could actually cause more harm than good – particularly when combined with other treatments. The one supplement many thought stood apart from this kind of news was Fish Oils and Omega-3.
For years we have been told of its wonder benefits, with everything from nuts, seeds, eggs, fatty fish, cooking oils and supplements being promoted as being “Rich in Omega 3” and the aid to increasing cognitive function, reducing heart disease, anti-inflammatory benefits and reducing the risk of Diabetes.
However yesterday’s breaking news that research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows a 71 per cent increased risk of prostate cancer among men who consume omega-3s / fatty acids regularly has thrown all these perceived benefits in to doubt.
“We’ve shown once again that use of nutritional supplements may be harmful,” says Alan Kristal, researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and senior author of the paper.
Ian Olver, Chief Executive of The Cancer Council Australia was quoted “The reality is that if something is good for you, it doesn’t mean that 10 times of it is better. It is unlikely someone would be diagnosed with a deficiency of fish oil. There is a view out there that extra vitamins and antioxidants are good for you. And people take more thinking that more is better“.
The question for many may be – is there a balanced approach? On the other side a long term user who suffers from a chronic degenerative disk disorder said “this is really confusing, I am not a big one for pills or vitamins but have been using these supplements for several years alongside an increase in fatty fish in my diet and can really feel the physical benefits and believed I was doing something that was giving me an all round health boost – I am now actually quite worried“.
Scientists are still puzzled as to why omega-3s appear linked to a greater risk of prostate cancer, but they say the findings suggest they are somehow involved in the formation of tumours. The same team of researchers published similar findings in 2011, linking high blood concentrations of DHA to a more than double risk of high-grade prostate cancer, which is more likely to be fatal than other types.
What is clear is – we are going to hear a lot more on this subject…
The following is from the ABC Science blog:
Weighing the risks
A large European study also found the same omega-3 and prostate cancer link.
“The consistency of these findings suggests that these fatty acids are involved in prostate tumourigenesis and recommendations to increase long-chain omega-3 fatty acid intake, in particular through supplementation, should consider its potential risks,” the study’s authors write.
The difference in blood concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids between the highest and lowest risk groups was about 2.5 percentage points (3.2 per cent vs. 5.7 per cent), or just higher than the effect of eating salmon twice a week, says Kristal.
The latest study was based on an analysis of specimens and data from a large randomised, controlled trial that tested whether selenium and vitamin E would reduce prostate cancer risk.
The trial, known as SELECT (the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial), found that vitamin E raised the prostate cancer risk and selenium showed no impact either way.
For the US study, researchers analysed the data on 834 men diagnosed with prostate cancer and compared them to a random sample of 1393 taken from the SELECT trial.
Those who had high blood concentrations of the fatty acids EPA, DPA and DHA were shown to have a 71 per cent increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer.
The increased risk of low grade prostate cancer was 44 per cent higher in those with elevated fatty acid levels, and the combined risk was 43 per cent for all prostate cancers.
More harm than good?
Due to the nature of the study, it was not possible to tell for certain whether the elevated blood levels were due to men taking supplements or eating fish rich in omega-3s.
However, Franklin Lowe, associate director of the department of urology at St Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York, says the findings should remind consumers that supplements may not help, and may even do harm.
“In general, there is nothing that has been proven to actually limit the risk of prostate cancer,” says Lowe, who was not involved in the study.
“For the most part, doctors do not recommend this stuff because it is unclear what the true benefits are for most of the supplements that people take.”
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