A story recently ran in the press which claims there is a strong link between fish oil supplements and prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer sucks, so we should all be scared as f**k.
… or should we?
Today, I’m going to be
tearing apart looking at these findings and showing you the information which was conveniently left out of the media reports, but right from the go-ahead I’d like to say all athletes can rest easy and continue to use their Omega-3 supplements without fear.
The Study In Question
Let’s get straight to the bottom of this one.
The study in question was featured in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute back in 2013. Seems like a good place to get information on things which may increase the risk of cancer, right?
Researchers claimed to have found an elevation in blood levels of Omega-3 correlated with a huge 70% increase in the chance of developing prostate cancer! (1)
They also concluded that they believe there’s a 45% increase in the chance of low-grade prostate cancer, and a 45% increase for all prostate cancers in general.
Given that every bodybuilder, serious athlete, and health conscious member of the public probably uses Omega-3 supplements, it’s no surprise the fitness world wanted answers when this news broke.
But you needn’t be concerned, folks.
In fact, this study, if we may call it that (you’ll see), has so many holes it could have been used as the plot in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.
Legendary bodybuilding coach Jim Stoppani, senior science editor for Muscle & Fitness magazine, had this to say:
“This so-called study is completely bogus.
I’ll get into the details further down this 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.”– Jim Stoppani
The Problem With This Study
Where do we start?!
First up, correlation does not equal causation.
For example, 80% of people who died last year had Facebook installed on their phones. This correlates that installing Facebook on your mobile greatly increases your risk of death!
In reality, all it increases is your chance of unfollowing annoying work colleagues who always post motivational quotes they don’t live by.
But it illustrates my point.
If using fish oil supplements did indeed boost the risk of developing prostate cancer by a whopping 70%, we wouldn’t even need a study to tell us about it. 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!
Heck, this is just the first hole poked through this paper-thin study.
Jim, who received his doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Connecticut, goes on:
“The blood levels of Omega-3 in the patients that this study considered ‘high risk’ for prostate cancer were 4.66%.
The blood levels in the control group were 4.88%. That’s a statistically insignificant difference.
Another glaring problem here is that the researchers did not actually give any test subjects any Omega-3 supplements at all, before jumping to their headline-grabbing conclusion.
Heck, they didn’t even have anybody follow a high fish diet!
All they did was take selected data from old studies, look at the levels of DPA and EHA in certain patients’ blood, and then run tests to show there was a correlation between the rate of Omega-3 and the rate of prostate cancer.”– Jim Stoppani
Jim isn’t alone in his damning report.
Several top research authorities have rubbished the findings, with some questioning why the Journal of the National Cancer Institute agreed to publish in the first place.
Because, bizarrely, we have only scratched the surface of the bulls**t on show in this study.
The same research paper also correlated (there’s that word again!) that smoking is better for your health than not smoking.
You read that correctly. Take a second, let it sink in.
I hate to say this, but it gets even worse…
They also concluded that having higher levels of trans fat correlates (!!) with a lower risk of cancer. Yes, trans fat! The one type of fat which serves absolutely zero nutritional purpose…
One more time; 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 nonsense which was reported in this study, we’d stop eating fish, and replace it with a smoking habit and regular visits to fast food joints.
Sure, some of the benefits of Omega-3 are overhyped.
For instance, the fat burning benefits are slight at best, and the government has long advised using Omega-3 supplements to protect against coronary heart disease, but a large 2018 meta-analysis found no benefits in that regard. (9, 10, 2, 3)
On the flipside, a regular intake of healthy Omega-3 fatty acids has been clinically proven to help you build more lean muscle tissue, reduce triglycerides and decrease inflammation. Inflammation plays a role in the development of cardiovascular disease, so it may help indirectly. (7, 8, 6, 4, 5)
The problem I have with weak headline-grabbing studies like the one above is they they only serve to cause confusion at a time when most people are already struggling to lead a healthy lifestyle. (11)
Like the recent headlines which claimed a glass of red wine is better than an hour of exercise, labeling obvious healthy choices like fish as unhealthy makes more people throw in the towel and go back to leading an unhealthy lifestyle because they’re sick of the conflicting information everywhere.
So stop it, media!
If you’ve enjoyed me debunking the fish oil prostate cancer risk, hop on my free email list below for ongoing fitness tips straight out of my gym.
- 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)
- 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)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System – United States. (2017)