Bodybuilding.com Information Motivation Supplementation
in:
Jim Stoppani
JimStoppani

Ask the Supplement Guru

"Does Fish Oil Cause
Prostate Cancer?"

Ask The Supp Guru Special Edition: Does Fish Oil Cause Prostate Cancer?

Just when you thought that the case for fish oil supplementation was airtight, along comes a study connecting essential fatty acids with prostate cancer.
Q

Hey Jim, you recommend fish oil in all of your Bodybuilding.com trainers. Now I hear it might cause prostate cancer. What's up?

I've been getting bombarded the last few days on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram by people who want to know whether or not omega-3 fats cause prostate cancer. This is due to a brand new study that suggests—or "confirms," depending on which headline you read—that they do.

Here's my take: This "study" is completely bogus. I'll get into the details in a second, but I wanted to be sure to call B.S. as quickly and clearly 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.

Now that I have gotten that off my chest, let's take a closer look at what makes this phony news story stink to high heaven.

Wait, What Study?

The study in question, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute by researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, claims that men with higher blood levels of omega-3 fats had more than a 70 percent greater risk in developing high-grade prostate cancer, an almost 45 percent increase in the risk of low-grade prostate cancer, and almost a 45 percent increase in the risk for all prostate cancers. The lead author was quoted as saying, "We've shown once again that use of nutritional supplements may be harmful."

Note that he doesn't warn against eating salmon, which is also very high in omega-3 fats. No, he warns against supplements. And when he says "We've shown once again," he is referring to a 2011 study by the same researchers which concluded that men with the highest levels of the omega-3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) had 2.5 times the risk of developing high-grade prostate cancer compared to men with the lowest levels.

These are big conclusions for him to draw when numerous other studies have shown that omega-3 fats actually reduce the risk of cancers, including prostate cancer. For this one lab to find the complete opposite means that we should approach this study carefully and look closely at how its conclusions were reached. And sure enough, neither it nor the 2011 study stands up to basic criticism.

Something Smells Fishy

First off: On its face, the conclusions from this study don't match up with basic real-world medical stats. If omega-3 fats were causing prostate cancer, you would expect that countries with the highest fish intake would have the highest rates of prostate cancer. You would also expect that the countries with the lowest fish intake would have the lowest rates of prostate cancer. And yet the opposite is far closer to the truth.

But let's look at the flaws of this study in particular. For starters, the actual blood levels of omega-3 fats that separated the patients into groups were very small. The blood levels of omega-3 fats in the patients that were considered to have a higher risk of prostate cancer were 4.66 percent. The blood levels of omega-3 in the control group were 4.48 percent. That's a change of less than 0.2 percent! This is a miniscule difference and should be considered statistically insignificant. But if you run enough different statistical tests —and particularly if you're simply aiming to confirm your anti-supplement bias —you can eventually find one that helps you show "significance."

An equally glaring problem with the study is that the researchers did not give subjects omega-3 supplements, or even a diet high in fatty fish like salmon. All they did was take old data from previous studies, look at the level of omega-3 fats in the patients' blood, and run selective statistics to show that there was a relationship to the rate of prostate cancer. It did not determine how the levels were increased—very slightly increased—and yet the lead author jumped to the wild conclusion that omega-3 supplements are harmful.

Confused Conclusions

"The researchers did not give subjects omega-3 supplements, or even a diet hight in fatty fish like salmon. All they did was take old data from previous studies."

This is called "correlation," and it does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. It simply shows a relationship, and in this case, it's a pretty flimsy one. In fact, several prominent research scientists have already stated that they are surprised that this study by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center team was even published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute because it was so flawed.

Up in Smoke

Here's another interesting relationship that the researchers found in their 2011 study, but which you won't hear them talking about. At the same time they were concluding that omega-3 fats somehow increased the risk of cancer, their stats indicated that men who smoke have a significantly lower risk of prostate cancer than non-smokers.

They also "discovered" in the new study that the men who had the highest blood levels of trans fat had a 50 percent reduction in the risk of prostate cancer!

Yes, that's trans fat—the most evil fat of them all. How could anyone believe that trans fats could reduce the risk of prostate cancer? It's even sillier than believing that omega-3 fats could increase the risk of prostate cancer.

Image of fish oil gel tabs
"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"

So if you really listened to the conclusions of the two studies by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, then you should avoid fatty fish like salmon and stop taking fish oil to keep your omega-3 fat levels low. Instead, eat packaged foods and dine at fast food restaurants to increase your trans fat intake, and after your meal, be sure to light up a cancer stick.

Sound like a smart plan? No, it doesn't. So don't listen to these clearly flawed "studies" that should never have been published in the first place. Do what you know works and keep supplementing with fish oil. It can increase muscle growth, aid fat loss, enhance joint health, boost brain function and mood, and reduce inflammation, all of which can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and many cancers. And that's just the short list of the benefits.

References (and I use the term "references" lightly)
  1. Brasky, T. M., et al. Plasma Phospholipid Fatty Acids and Prostate Cancer Risk in the Select Trial. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. In press, 2013.
  2. Brasky, T. M, et al. Serum phospholipid fatty acids and prostate cancer risk: results from the prostate cancer prevention trial. Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Jun 15; 173(12):1429-39.

Related Articles

About The Author

Jim holds a doctorate in exercise physiology and has been the personal nutrition and health consultant for numerous celebrity clients...

RATE THIS ARTICLE
POOR
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
EXCELLENT
OVERALL RATING
9.8

Out of 10
Excellent
283 Ratings

156

Comments

Showing 1 - 25 of 156 Comments

(5 characters minimum)

      • notify me when users reply to my comment
Jwestover13

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
Jwestover13

Soooooooooooo glad this article was published and written by stoppani! It made no sense to me why the hell the lab would even make that assumption that omega-3 fats increased risk of cancer.

Jul 15, 2013 5:54pm | report
 
JimStoppani

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
JimStoppani

It's absolutely irresponsible of the researchers and the journal to publish something like this.

Jul 15, 2013 7:19pm | report
Jwestover13

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
Jwestover13

Couldn't agree more! Thanks for publishing this, another job well done and truth well told.

Jul 15, 2013 8:51pm | report
Urfi

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
Urfi

Thank god I read this article. I knew this was bull **** but I stopped taking fish oil for couple days because my dad told me but now I will tell him we can get back on it.

Jul 16, 2013 6:18am | report
JessicaPippen

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
JessicaPippen

as a woman, i know the importance of omega 3's for womens helth. as soon as i saw that it could cause prostate cancer in men research, i knew it was complete garbage. These idiots will do anything from helping people find the truth to real health and wellness. Im smart enough to know that nothing is more powerful than nutrition that was put on this earth versus to man made crap that these dorks who published the article wants people to believe. excellent article! well written to trump the BS

Jul 18, 2013 12:22pm | report
atokad

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
atokad

wow....just wow

Jul 15, 2013 5:55pm | report
 
SaraSolomon

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
SaraSolomon

another job well done Dr. Stoppani!

Jul 15, 2013 7:10pm | report
 
jcdesigndesk

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
jcdesigndesk

So what possible reason could the researchers have for publishing such a 'study'? Why do they have a vendetta against dietary supplements?

Jul 15, 2013 7:16pm | report
 
SugarNation

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
SugarNation

A New England Journal of Medicine study showed that more than 95% of all U.S. physicians enjoy some form of relationship with the pharmaceutical industry. Is it any wonder that an inexpensive and effective dietary supplement like fish oil is a target?

Jul 15, 2013 7:32pm | report
JimStoppani

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
JimStoppani

As SugarNation points there is the Big Pharma relationship. But also, many doctors and scientists don't understand supplements, and most experts condemn what they don't understand.

Jul 15, 2013 10:03pm | report
rennbj4

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
rennbj4

It isn't just the money... a lot of these scientists have personal biases. Then, there's pressure from the scientific community or from those funding their research to get the results they demand. It's scientists who held a belief and refuse to accept they were wrong. It's scientists who want to make names for themselves.

Jul 16, 2013 8:35am | report
!!Sisco!!

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
!!Sisco!!

Super glad someone has the guts to call it how it is without worrying about ignorant PR s comments.. Thank you for the clarification on this topic Dr. Stoppani!

Jul 15, 2013 7:56pm | report
 
JimStoppani

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
JimStoppani

You are more than welcome!

Jul 15, 2013 10:04pm | report
SikhGainz

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
SikhGainz

Why hasn't anyone printed a retraction??

Jul 15, 2013 8:21pm | report
 
rennbj4

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
rennbj4

Because real science takes time. Unfortunately, millions will see the bad science before justice gets to it.

Jul 16, 2013 8:36am | report
FitKnights

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
FitKnights

Curious it was published in a journal with a reported impact factor of 15.

Jul 15, 2013 8:38pm | report
 
Reaper94

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
Reaper94

I don't get their logic, wow xD

Jul 15, 2013 8:57pm | report
 
easton54

Rep Power: 10

  • rep this user
easton54

Thank you Dr.S for your sound reasoning and shedding light on yet another hyped contorted study meant to sell copy or generate clicks on the laptop. I consider you my "go to" source when it comes to nutrition and exercise.

Jul 15, 2013 9:26pm | report
 
JimStoppani

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
JimStoppani

You are welcome. And THANK YOU for the support!

Jul 15, 2013 10:05pm | report
cdmagee

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
cdmagee

Thanks for clearing that matter up quick !

Jul 15, 2013 9:41pm | report
 
Zefare

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
Zefare

I knew it! The moment I read about this online I knew Stoppani would tear it apart! Good work!

Jul 15, 2013 9:57pm | report
 
JimStoppani

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
JimStoppani

Ha! Yeah, I can't stand when the media is out there hyping this nonsense as if it is "proof"!

Jul 15, 2013 10:06pm | report
wille083

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
wille083

Thank you very much! People at my gym told me not to take them anymore today and I couldnt wrap my head around it. Well published

Jul 15, 2013 10:28pm | report
 
JimStoppani

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
JimStoppani

That's what really is sad is that so many people are now going to do more harm than good and stop taking omega-3 fats because of this nonsense that the media has perpetuated.

Jul 15, 2013 10:50pm | report
takeheart09

Rep Power: 0

  • rep this user
takeheart09

So funny; as I was watching the news about this study of fish oil and cancer I thought to myself, "I wonder what Dr. Stoppani would have to say about this?" Thanks again Dr. Stoppani; I've taken a research class and understand that finding real good research with hard results is actually a hard thing to do. It's unfortunate what poor research gets media and can actually lead people astray in their decisions with their health. Thanks again very much for your articles, much appreciated.

Jul 15, 2013 10:39pm | report
 
Showing 1 - 25 of 156 Comments

Featured Product

Give Us Feedback:
Report A Problem
Site Feedback
Follow Us:
Twitter
Facebook
RSS Feeds
Bodybuilding.com Newsletter

Receive exciting features,
news & special offers from Bodybuilding.com