This past July 11, 2013 research results from Brasky et al. were published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The concluded that high blood concentrations of omega 3 fatty acids were linked to increase prostate cancer risk. Researchers state these results support their 2011 findings that omega 3 fatty acids play a role in prostate cancer.
In the few weeks since this study was published, many doctors and researchers have weighed in with their viewpoints on the study results. Let’s sift through all the information and focus on what you need to know so you can decide if you should continue supplementing omega 3 fatty acids or not.
This study, released by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, analyzed participant data from the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). SELECT was a large randomized, placebo-controlled trial to test whether selenium and vitamin E reduced prostate cancer risk. SELECT was not a double-blind placebo controlled trial focused on omega 3’s and prostate cancer. Participants in SELECT had their omega 3 levels measured. It was the plasma phospholipid omega 3 levels of 834 men who developed prostate cancer and 1393 men who did not develop prostate cancer that was analyzed for this most recent research linking omega 3’s to prostate cancer.
Cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra points out valid concerns regarding vitamin E and its pro-oxidative effect on cholesterol. Oxidation causes the production of free radicals, which increases health concerns (ie cancer, heart disease, etc.). In SELECT, participants received 400 IU of dl-alpha tocopherol (one form of vitamin E). Many would argue that supplementing high levels of one form of vitamin E is associated with its own negative health consequences. Sharing this to show that the data analyzed from SELECT may have been ‘contaminated’ by the vitamin E supplementation which can impact results. Also, keep in mind that some participants were on prescription medications, were smokers, regularly drank alcohol, were overweight/obese, and/or had a first-degree relative with prostate cancer…all of which impact prostate cancer risk.
Omega 3 Levels
Here are the plasma omega 3 levels and the cancer risk found in this research:
3.62% - No cancer control group
3.66% - Total cancer group
3.67% - Low grade cancer group
3.74% - High grade cancer group
The difference in plasma omega 3 levels between the no cancer group and the high grade cancer group is not significantly different at .12%. Interestingly, the Framingham Heart Study found plasma omega 3 levels to be 5.2% in those NOT taking omega 3/fish oil supplements and 7.5% in those supplementing omega 3’s…significantly higher than the levels found in SELECT participants. This may indicate that the participant data analyzed was not an accurate representation of the average population.