We have spoken previously about the benefits of fats and mentioned fish oils as part of that group.
They do however deserve a bit of special attention.
As a big advocate of fish and fish oils I was surprised to see a research study all over the media recently saying – that omega 3 fatty acids (like the oil found in fish) can cause prostate cancer in men.
I feel the need to respond and clear up any confusion.
Today we will look a little closer at this research as well as giving you an overview of the subject of fish oils.
The Study in Question
The study was carried out at a cancer research center in Seattle.
The study tested 834 males diagnosed with prostate cancer and aimed to find out if there was a relationship between cancer and omega 3 intake.
The study found that subjects with high levels of omega 3 fatty acids in their blood, had a 43% increased risk of prostate cancer overall and a 71% increased risk for aggressive prostate cancer. The study also suggests that eating high levels of linoleic acid (omega 6 fatty acids) were associated with a lower risk.
(Both these claims are a complete opposite of what my views as a nutritionist are, I recommend my clients eat plenty of fish (omega 3) or take a fish oil and not eat too much vegetable oils (omega 6).)
Blood samples from the men who had developed prostate cancer during the trial had more omega 3 fats than those who didn’t develop prostate cancer.
This really adds to the confusion. (I would say that its the aim of the government and some reseach – to cast doubt in your mind, to keep you confused, have you ever noticed how confusing health and fitness can be, people saying the complete opposite of each other all the time, like this article!)
I admit it can be hard to know what to do for the best.
As we have suggested before, research is not the be all and end all, and it can prove or disprove pretty much anything.
What I would suggest though is not to have a knee jerk reaction every time a new piece of scientific “evidence” is published. Read, watch and listen to all sides of the discussion and scratch beneath the surface, also getting a credible opinion from someone you trust, then make your decision.
This study found that a diet high in omega 3s can actually REDUCE the risk of getting prostate cancer.
So going back to the study from Seattle, let’s look into its validity.
It did not look into people taking fish oil supplements it was just an overview of omega 3 fatty acid levels in the blood, so we are unable to pinpoint if fish oil supplements were the exact cause.
Our good friend Dr Briffa also published an article (see it here) on this subject after seeing the results of the study.
As you know I am not a doctor so I can only do so much in an attempt to question the results of this comprehensive study, so it is good that a man like Dr Briffa, who seems to promote and preach similar advice to myself had something to say on the subject.
He stated that the study was epidemiological in nature, which means that it only tells us about the relationship between the two rather than one thing (omega 3s) causes another thing (prostate cancer).
Dr Mark Hyman, analysed this very same study and he said:
What we can be sure of is that association does not prove cause and effect. If this had been an intervention design study, where half the participants got fish oil and half didn’t and they were followed for 20 years to see if they got prostate cancer, then you can say pretty definitively that they are connected. Bottom line, this type of study does not prove cause and effect. If I did a study on sunrise and humans waking up, I would find 100 percent correlation, but that doesn’t mean that the sun came up because you woke up. Correlation, yes; causation, no.
The authors of this study also presented data from similar studies, in the form of a meta analysis. The meta analysis showed:
- A link between high omega-3 levels and increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer (higher levels were associate with a 51 per cent increased risk)
- NO link between high omega-3 levels and increased risk of low-grade prostate cancer
- NO link between high omega-3 levels and increased risk of prostate cancer overall (high- and low-grade prostate cancers combined)
Dr Briffa points us in the direction of a study (3) which measured the blood levels of omega 3 fats in 2,692 adults and followed them for an average of 11 and a half years. Adults with the highest levels of omega 3 fats were 27% less likely to die over the course of the study than those with the lowest levels of omega 3 fats.
Life and death is the biggest indicator of all, so for me, that comprehensive study does a lot to suggest the benefits of a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids.
From my perspective the study also failed to consider the effects of lifestyle triggers such as smoking, alcohol intake, health status, nutrition, exercise, environmental toxicity, body weight (obese or not), inflammation, stress. These are all known triggers for cancer but the study did not use any of these parameters.
Also if this study were correct, then countries where the fish intake was historically high, such as Japan, would have high levels of prostrate cancer, would they not? Historically the opposite is true, Japan has very low levels of prostrate cancer.
However in more recent times there has been an increase in prostrate cancer in Japan, which has been attributed to the widespread adoption of the SAD diet (standard American diet (of crap fake food)).
(I will discuss this term SAD diet, in more depth soon.)
(along with lots of new terms which are now being used in an attempt the explain our world health problem)
Remember – for every claim against fish and fish oil, it seems there are several studies that confirm their benefits.
Fish Oil The Facts
Unsurprisingly, you get fish oil from the tissues of oily fish ;-). You can also get the purified form of fish oils as a supplement.
Fish oils contain omega 3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), these help with reducing inflammation as well as many other health benefits, which we will discuss below.
The reason we eat fish is mostly for the wonderful benefits of EPA and DHA.
The trouble with fish nowadays is that much of it is farmed or has high levels of toxicity because the sea is so polluted.
Farmed fish are often fed on GMO corn, which affects the quality of the fish and the EPA and DHA levels. The wild fish is better in lots of ways but has been found to have high levels of heavy metals, specifically methylmercury, which is bad for our health as you may have already read in toxic teeth.
Fish oils on the other hand, have all the positives of high levels of EPA and DHA, but NONE of the negatives, like the toxins found in fresh fish.
I was at a Phil Richards seminar recently and he was asked the question “Is it better to eat fresh fish or fish oils?” The answer sadly was fish oils because of the toxicity in farmed and fresh wild fish.
Salmon is the best wild fish to eat as it has lower levels of heavy metals (sole, whitefish, trout and cod are all pretty low too) than most other fish, stay away from what are called predatory fish such as shark, sword fish and marlin (don’t know anyone who eats this other than on holiday anyways).
Fish Oils Are Popular
A recent national diet and nutrition survey found that as many as 1 in 5 of us in the UK take a fish oil supplement (1). It is also thought that British people spend around £116 million on these supplements each year (2).
The benefits from the healthy omega 3 fatty acids are massive and I would recommend that everyone who doesn’t consume enough of these (like me) increase their intake.
The fish oil supplement is handy for people who don’t like fish, so can tolerate it in a supplement, it is actually easier on the pocket and less time consuming to get omega 3 fatty acids in a fish oil capsule or liquid.
The quality of the fish oil is essential as often the oils we buy are already rancid – Phil Richards. This is usually the cause of the fishy after taste you get. The capsules are sometimes made of animal gelatine.
This is why when Phil developed his fish oil, he has added antioxidants to make sure the oil does not go off.
I recommend this one called the “Ultimate Fish Oil”, which comes in capsules and liquid form(in this product these is no difference in liquid or capsules as the capsules are naturally made of fish gelatine). It’s a mixture of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, and has high levels of EPA and DHA.
If you would rather do it naturally then aim for fish such as mackerel, salmon, cod (liver), trout, sardines and tuna. They provide around 1 gram of omega 3 fatty acids per 3.5 ounces of fish.
Fresh not fried fish is always a good rule of thumb 😉
These fish mentioned above are usually what make up a fish oil supplement, potentially alongside small amounts of vitamin E and potentially calcium, iron and some other vitamins.
Omega 3 fatty acids are labelled as ‘essential’, this means that they are essential in order to allow the human body to function to its full potential. Sadly our body is unable to produce these on their own so it must come from the foods we eat or in supplement form.
There are many different fatty acids and the only two that the body can’t produce are omega 3s and omega 6s.
Important side note…Omega 3 & Omega 6
As far as I am concerned, from what I have researched, there is a massive need for people to increase their intake of these essential omega 3 fatty acids. On that we have been very clear.
Omega 3s are a crucial building block in our health and is sadly absent in most people’s diet.
In the UK generally we do eat too many omega 6’s and not enough omega 3’s.
For better results with your health (and fat loss) this needs to be completely reversed.
Omega 6 oils are vegetable oils and sunflower oils.
The solution is to reduce these omega 6 fats down while increasing your omega 3’s.
Try cooking with coconut oil, eating less fried foods (they are usually fried in these oils), eating grass fed meat (it has lower omega 6 levels).
The intake of omega 3 to omega 6 is a ratio of one to one. Balance.
Health Benefits of Quality Fish Oil
ACCEPTED research studies have found that there are many benefits to your health that come from taking fish oil and I will list some of the main ones here.
Lower triglyceride levels – Taking a fish oil supplement will lower your levels of triglycerides which are the dangerous fats which have been linked to high (bad)cholesterol levels. Lowering triglyceride levels can also help to fight the negative long term effects of type 2 diabetes.
Brain food – As we already know fish is a brain food. An increase in omega 3 fatty acids has shown to have many mental benefits including lowering the risk of depression, psychosis, ADHA and Alzheimer’s. It really gives you a good mental boost and helps to combat all of the mental illnesses mentioned above.
Other benefits include:
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Reduced inflammation and post exercise recovery
- Increases youthfulness
- Helps pregnant and breastfeeding women
UK guidelines suggest you eat fish twice a week which is easy enough to do I think.
Fish Oil For Kids (and the whole family)
In our family we all take high quality fish oils everyday.
I have been giving my son Louis 1/2 a tea spoon of ultimate fish oil liquid since he was about 12 months old, now age 4, he can recite the encyclopedia backwards!
But seriously, he is a cleaver little chap.
Most kids dont eat fish (Louis has eaten salmon since he was a baby too), so getting the EPA and DHA is ESSENTIAL for their BRAIN to develop to its full potential.
I have never met a parent who doesnt want the best for their kids. What with the world being more competitive than ever, any advantage you can give your kids in school, I think is a good idea.
Yes it can be an extremely confusing subject but you should always aim to eat things in the most natural form and you shouldn’t go too far wrong.
Is The Link Between Fish Oil & Cancer BS? Yes I would say so.
Remember, anything in the right quantity can be poisonous, including health foods. Getting the right balance of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids is the aim of the game.
It’s the imbalance, having high levels of omega 6 compared to omega 3’s, which can cause all the problems.
Nothing is too complicated, just eat natural whole foods and you will be fine.
If you miss out on this vital food group, as I have said – take a supplement.
I really want to know what you think on the subject so please comment below.
Whats your favourite fish?
Did you stop taking fish oil after reading this story in the news?
If you supplement, which one do you and your family take?
As always I must remind you, DO NOT make any changes without first speaking to your doctor, especially if you have any ongoing health problems.
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Thanks for reading,
- Mozaffarian D, et al. Plasma phospholipid long-chain ω-3 fatty acids and total and cause-specific mortality in older adults: a cohort study. Ann Intern Med. 2013;158(7):515-25