A story recently ran in the press claiming there is a fish oil prostate cancer link which we should all be scared of.
According to the latest headlines, using Omega-3 supplements can significantly increase your chances of developing the big C.
Given that athletes and bodybuilders (and heck, just about everyone I’ve ever met!) use Omega-3 capsules on a daily basis, it’s no surprise the media have stirred up quite a frenzy with these headlines.
But are they true?
Does fish oil cause prostate cancer?
Or is this just another case of the media causing panic based on misguided advice?
(Like when they claimed that a glass of red wine is as good as an hour of exercise, or that a high protein diet will kill you..)
Does Fish Oil Cause Prostate Cancer?
Let’s get straight to the bottom of this one.
The study in question was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and claims that elevated blood levels of Omega-3 correlate to a massive 70% rise in the risk of developing prostate cancer in men. (1)
The study also claimed there is a 45% increased chance of low-grade prostate cancer and a 45% increase for all prostate cancers in general.
Scary stuff, huh?
It’s no surprise this made headlines!
But all is not what it seems. In fact, this ‘study’ (if we can call it that) had so many flaws it could have doubled as a car park.
Legendary bodybuilding coach Jim Stoppani, who received his doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Connecticut and has gone on to become one of the world’s top supplement experts, had this to say:
“This so-called study is completely bogus.
I’ll get into the details further down the page, but I wanted to call BS as quickly as possible!
Sorry to be blunt, but it angers me when scientists publish weak statistical correlations that cause the media to get the public in a tizzy over the fake dangers of supplements.”
A Very Flawed Study
The problem here is that correlation does not equal causation.
After all, we could correlate that 100% of middle aged men who are married to supermodels are rich.
Does that mean supermodels make you rich?
Quite the opposite, I imagine!
But you can see my point.
If Omega-3 supplements did indeed cause a massive 70% increase in the chance of developing prostate cancer then it would be very easy to identify this problem without the need for a study.
Because the countries of the world where fish consumption is at it’s highest (Berundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Albania, Algeria) should also be the countries with the highest rate of prostate cancer.
But they’re not.
This is just the first hole poked through this paper-thin study.
Jim, the senior science editor for Muscle & Fitness magazine, goes on:
“The blood levels of Omega-3 in the patients that were considered to carry a heavy risk of prostate cancer were 4.66%.
The blood levels of Omega-3 in the control group were 4.88%.
That’s utter nonsense, and statistically irrelevant!
An equally glaring problem with this study is that the researchers didn’t give any participants any Omega-3 supplements at all before making their shocking headline-grabbing conclusion.
Heck, they didn’t even follow a high fish diet!
All they did was take selected data from old studies, look at the levels of Omega-3 fats in certain patients’ blood, and then run selective tests to show there was a correlation between the rate of Omega-3 and the rate of prostate cancer.”
Jim isn’t alone in his damning report.
Several top research authorities have rubbished the findings and some even questioned why it was published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in the first place, due to the gaping holes in it.
Because we’ve only really scratched the surface so far.
Yes, it gets much worse!
The same study also correlated that smoking is better for your health than not smoking.
Take a moment to let that sink in.
Apparently, you should smoke to lower your risk of cancer!
I hate to say this, but it gets even worse…
The final crazy statement to come out of this so-called study is the revelation that having higher levels of trans fat correlates with a lower risk of prostate cancer.
Yes, trans fat!
The one type of fat which serves absolutely no nutritional purpose (unless you class “getting fat as f**k” as a nutritional purpose) is apparently linked with lower rates of prostate cancer.
Again, correlation does not equal causation.
Fish Oil Does Not Cause Prostate Cancer
Time to get serious here.
If we are to believe any of the information from the study above, we’d stop eating fish (or consuming Omega-3 supplements), then replace it with smoking and fast food.
How ridiculous does that sound?
A regular intake of the healthy Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish (and fish oil supplements) will help you to build more lean muscle tissue! (7, 8)
Like most supplements, the benefits are sometimes over-hyped. That’s for sure.
For instance, the fat loss benefits often attached to the packaging are completely overblown. Omega-3 supplementation has been shown to lead to a slight reduction in fat mass, but only when paired with a healthier diet and exercise regime, which renders the actual role played by the Omega-3 as secondary at best, given that the weight loss would be primarily achieved via the switch to a healthier lifestyle. (9)
And government guidelines have long recommended consuming fish oil supplements as a way to prevent the onset of coronary heart disease, but the research to support these recommendations was sketchy at best. (2)
However, a large 2018 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Cardiology looked at the body of research in every large trial performed to date and found no benefits towards CHD prevention. (3)
It has been shown to decrease inflammation, though, and inflammation plays a large role in the development of cardiovascular disease, so it could help indirectly. And let’s not forget the massively important role it plays in triglyceride reduction. (4, 5, 6)
So while it may not be directly preventing the onset of cardiovascular disease as first thought, a few things are very clear – the fatty acids found in fish oil are certainly not causing any harm, are helping you to build more muscle, may be helping you to burn a little extra fat, and are definitely not causing prostate cancer!
Jim Stoppani is spot on with his conclusion that this study is nothing more than headline fodder.
In a world where most people are a bit lost when it comes to supplementation and nutrition (particularly around bodybuilding), it is a real shame when information like this reaches the mainstream media an unnecessarily terrifies the public. The authors are simply out to gain publicity for themselves, and cannot be taken seriously in future.
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- Brasky, T. M., et al. Plasma Phospholipid Fatty Acids and Prostate Cancer Risk in the Select Trial. J Natl Cancer Inst (2013).
- Zheng, J, et al. Fish consumption and CHD mortality: an updated meta-analysis of seventeen cohort studies . Public Health Nutr. (2012)
- Aung, T., et al. Associations of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplement Use With Cardiovascular Disease Risks: Meta-analysis of 10 Trials Involving 77 917 Individuals. JAMA Cardiol. 2018 Mar 1;3(3):225-234. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2017.5205.
- Calder, P. C., et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and inflammatory processes: nutrition or pharmacology? . Br J Clin Pharmacol. (2013)
- Libby, P., et al. Inflammation and cardiovascular disease mechanisms . Am J Clin Nutr. (2006)
- Innes, J. K., et al. The Differential Effects of Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid on Cardiometabolic Risk Factors: A Systematic Review. Int J Mol Sci. (2018)
- Smith, G. I., et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids augment the muscle protein anabolic response to hyperinsulinaemia-hyperaminoacidaemia in healthy young and middle-aged men and women. Clin Sci (Lond). (2011)
- Smith G. I., et al. Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. (2011)
- Couet, C., et al. Effect of dietary fish oil on body fat mass and basal fat oxidation in healthy adults. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. (1997)
- Warner, J. G. Jr., et al. Combined effects of aerobic exercise and omega-3 fatty acids in hyperlipidemic persons. Med Sci Sports Exerc. (1989)