Omega-3s have long been praised for their anti-inflammatory properties and their suggested role in disease prevention. Found mainly in oily fish, like salmon, or in certain fruits, vegetables and nuts, like avocados or flax seeds, omega-3s are essential fatty acids that are said to support a healthy mind and heart, among other benefits. Supplements, typically produced from fish oil, are among the most popular products in the health industry.
However, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute is suggesting something quite different.
Researchers from the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center reported last week men who were found to have high amounts of omega-3 within their blood had a 43 percent greater risk of developing prostate cancer and 71 percent more likely to develop a highly aggressive tumor. The Seattle-based team examined blood samples from 1,393 healthy men and 834 men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
The men with higher amounts of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and DPA (docosapentaenoic acid) in their blood consumed, on average, two extra servings of salmon per week. So, what are other doctors saying?
The study was authored by Dr. Alan Kristal said there is no definite answer as to why omega-3s could increase the risk of prostate cancer. He did suggest one possible scenario -- that when the body is converting the omega-3s within they body, they can become compounds that negatively affect the DNA, immune system and cells of the body. The study didn't, however, investigate whether or not omega-3s impacting the progression of prostate cancer. A similar report was released by the same group of researchers in 2011.
However, many medical professionals have come forward to discredit the study, claiming it wasn't inclusive enough.
Critics of the study have encouraged men to wait until further research is done to reduce or eliminate omega-3s from their diet. Dr. Iain Frame, director of research for Prostate Cancer UK told the Telegraph he didn't think men should change their eating habits or supplement routines based on the study, but should instead talk with their doctor. Dr. Anthony D'Amico, who is the chief of radiation oncology at Brigham and Women's Hospital, located in Boston, told HealthDay the research doesn't show omega-3s caused the cancer and more factors would have to be examined about the men's health to make such a statement.
On his website, Dr. Stephen Sinatra, founder of the New England Heart Center, encouraged men to keep taking omega-3s or consuming them through food, since past studies have established their anti-inflammatory properties and even some anti-cancer benefits.
"Your body needs omega-3s for healthy blood pressure, arterial functioning, circulation, eye health, mental processing and more. In fact, omega-3s are called an 'essential fatty acid' because your body requires them -- but can't manufacture them -- so you need to get them from food or supplements," Dr. Sinatra said.
Omega-3s and Your Health
As with any supplement, it's always best to do your research and speak with your doctor before adding one to your routine. This is especially important if you have a diagnosed medical condition, take medication (either prescription or over the counter), are pregnant or breastfeeding or are interested in taking a dose beyond the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for prevention or treatment of a condition, like cancer.
You and your physician can examine possible risks and benefits to determine if a supplement is right for you and the best way to take it.
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