Have you heard the latest salvo fired by the “anti-supplement crowd”? I refer to their review of a study linking Omega-3s to prostate cancer. While I certainly favor research investigating the safety of any of my favorite “babies”, a rational interpretation of the results of this one should NOT cause you health conscious people to change your routine. Don’t throw away those fish capsules. Here’s why:
It was an impressive broad reaching analysis, though it must be stated that this was not a “random, double-blind placebo controlled” study. It simply examined the phospholipid omega-3 levels of 35,000 people containing 834 cases of prostate cancer. The study found that the highest levels of omega-3 correlated to the highest risk of the disease. Lets take a look at this correlation. (remember that correlation does not imply causation)
First, though the elevated risk approached 43%, it is important to note that the levels were so tiny that it is almost meaningless. Control group level – 4.48, total cancer group – 4.66. Though this does pose some significance, since it is so low the door is open for many variables to influence it.
Second, the researchers admit that they did not examine the dietary habits of the participants. They did not take into account the fact that other factors besides dietary consumption or supplementation of omega 3 – such as a very low fat diet – can also influence the levels. Note the fact that no omega 3 supplements were administered to this group. In fact, the overwhelming majority of those reviewed did not take fish oil supplements.
In light of this, doesn’t it seem ludicrous for one cancer statistician to remark that “the problem comes when you take components of a diet and put them in a pill”. 🙂 Remember also that many studies support fish oil supplementation in the fight against breast and other cancers, and its regular use is healthier than the frequent consumption of actual fish, because of the mercury and other contaminants. (Isn’t it an awful irony that the healthiest natural food can kill you!)
Though I don’t want to chastise the intent and diligence of the authors of this study, I feel that the overreaction of the media and some “anti” groups definitely deserves a
Headlines such as:
“Omega-3 supplements may trigger prostate cancer”
“Hold the Salmon: Omega-3 fatty acids linked to higher risk of cancer”
“Omega-3 supplements linked to prostate cancer”
all serve only to mislead the public and possibly cause them to change already healthy behavior. Dr Johnny Bowden calls this “Media Madness” and he has a good point in his blog post. He truly puts them in their place!
So just remember to take every study with a grain of salt. They all have value, but as they say: “the devil is in the details.” As the shepherd of your own health, you have to be careful of what you believe in, and observe every new research with a critical eye.
To your health!