By: Victoria Locke.
In a recent study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, high levels of EPA, DPA and DHA- fatty acids derived from fish oil supplements where associated with the increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer in men by 71%. This increased risk is vital because the high-grade prostate cancers are more likely to be metastatic and fatal compared to the 43% increased risk for “all prostate cancers.” Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has now completed two large studies which report links between high levels of omega-3 and the 2x increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer.
Omega-threes have been hailed as the go-to nutritional supplement for heart health, reducing inflammation, improving skin health, and preventing cancer. The omega-threes ALA, DHA and EPA are not made in our bodies, therefore dietary supplementation is the only way to obtain these fatty acids. EPA and DHA are considered to be the most important, and are found primarily in fish, whereas ALA is found in plants like flax. Some researchers and physicians say that DHA and EPA from fish and fish oils are more important than ALA and have more health benefits.
Scientists were shocked to find that these “healthy” omega-threes were linked to a high risk of “aggressive” prostate cancer. Study authors believe that DHA and EPA may play a role in tumor development. This essentially means that patients who are at a higher risk for prostate cancer should consider that the risks may outweigh the benefits of fish oils. Yet, researchers are not sure whether or not omega-threes play a “detrimental role in prostate cancer prognosis.”
Researchers are telling patients to not panic however. It is suggested that people who take large doses of daily omega-three supplementation are at the highest risk, but patients should discuss the issue with their primary care physician before modifying their diet or supplementation based on the data presented. Furthermore, researchers are currently unsure of the exact role omega-threes play in the generation of prostate tumors, or why high doses of fish oils are associated with increased risk. However, it was stated that it is possible that fatty acids are harmful as they do “turn into compounds that can cause damage to cells and DNA and immunosuppression.”
Overall, men who are at a higher risk for prostate cancer, or who are currently taking high levels of omega-3 fatty acids should speak with their physician about fish oil supplements and consider the risks before initiating a regimen. Studies have not yet proven the mechanisms responsible for increased risk of prostate cancer, but the risk is of enough concern that men should be educated and made aware about their risks.
Disclaimer: Please note that the information above has been obtained from multiple sources for the sole purpose of student education and should not be used in the direct care of patients and/or clinical decision making.