Flawed Research Slams Omega-3’s

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

August 26, 2013

  • Bad science links omega-3’s to prostate cancer
  • Three strikes against the “statistically significant” findings
  • Let’s look at some REAL truths and facts

There’s a new “health alert” being plastered all over the news. And it may be scaring men away from a vital nutrient that protects them from heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, dementia, cancer and more.

I’m talking about the new study on fish oil and prostate cancer.

It supposedly “proves” fish oil, or omega-3 fatty acids, increase aggressive prostate cancer by 71%. But when you dig a little deeper into the study, it proves no such thing!

Now, when you read something like this, it’s real easy to assume the study was on omega-3 fatty acid intake and prostate cancer risk. However that just wasn’t the case. In fact, throughout the entire duration of the study, fish oil (omega-3) supplementation and dietary intake of fish weren’t even monitored.

That’s because the purpose of the study was to evaluate the effects of selenium and vitamin E on prostate cancer. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw the news reports.

Something wasn’t adding up… and nothing about it made any sense.

When I finally had the chance to sit down and analyze the study last week, I immediately saw the problem. The research was riddled with flaws. And the results were so far-fetched it left my head spinning.

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Just take a look at what the real results of this study show…

When I discuss nutrition with my patients, one of my top recommendations is ensuring they get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. There’s an overwhelming amount of research showing that, among other things, they boost heart health, power-up brain function and reduce inflammation.

As far as I’m concerned, getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is just good common sense.

With that in mind, here are a few things I’ll bet you didn’t hear about it in any of those big media reports…

Now remember. This wasn’t a study on omega-3 fatty acids. And this fact becomes very clear when you look at how they drew and studied the blood samples.

Plasma blood samples were drawn from each of the men at the beginning of the study to develop a “baseline.” These samples were frozen for later analysis.

Well that’s the first strike. You see, plasma sampling isn’t the most accurate way to measure levels of fatty acids in the blood. It simple “freeze-frames” levels based on what the men ate in the few days prior to drawing the blood. A week later and the levels could change quite a bit.

But that’s just one strike when it comes to the blood sampling. There’s another that’s equally important.

This study ran seven to ten years, depending on when the men were recruited. But in all of that time there was never regular sampling and testing of fatty acid levels in the blood. The only testing took place on the original baseline samples.

To be scientifically accurate, multiple blood tests would have to be run throughout the duration of the study. And that’s not all. Getting a good read on the results would require analyzing food diaries or questionnaires. None of that happened.

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That’s two strikes. Here’s strike number three…

The report clearly states the researchers found “increased risk of prostate cancer among men with high blood concentrations of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.”

However when you actually analyze the levels reported in the study, there was no evidence of “high blood concentrations” of omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, there was very little difference in the measurements.

The omega-3 fatty acids were 4.7% of total fatty acids in the patients who developed prostate cancer. In the meantime, the non-cancer patients had omega-3 levels of 4.5% of total fatty acids. That’s a difference of .2%.

That’s right. Less than point two percent! In other words, this so-called “statistically significant” difference in fatty acid levels is basically non-existent. I’ll bet that’s something you didn’t read in those sensationalistic news articles.

I have to admit. I really sank my teeth into this study. And when I started crunching the numbers two more things immediately came to light.

Wait until you see what they were…

First let’s take a look at the results from the PSA tests which took place at the beginning of the study. In the non-cancer group, 41% of the patients had initial PSA readings of less than 1 ng/mL. This is a healthy score.

That picture changes drastically when you look at the men who went on to develop prostate cancer. Less than 6% of patients in the cancer group had PSA scores less than 1 ng/mL.

The numbers were equally off-kilter when it came to PSA levels of 3.0 ng/mL or higher. Only 7% of non-cancer patients had scores this high at the beginning of the study. Conversely, 41% of the men who developed cancer had these high readings.

Since high levels of PSA can be associated with prostate cancer, I think it’s pretty clear these baseline differences likely had something to do with the outcomes.

Next let’s talk about the men who developed prostate cancer.

It turns out they were already at much higher risk. That’s because they were more likely to have a relative or family member who had been diagnosed with the condition. Only 16% of the non-cancer patients had a family history of the disease versus 30% for the cancer group.

In other words, the men who went on to develop prostate cancer already had the decks stacked against them!

This study is just bad science. And it’s a shame so many men are buying into it. Especially when so many studies have shown omega-3 fatty acids protect against prostate cancer.

In fact, one study that included a full 30 years of follow-up found men who ate no fish had a two-fold to three-fold higher frequency of prostate cancer.

And there are more than 8,000 studies showing fish oil improves a variety of other conditions, too. Omega-3 fatty acids…

  • Reduce chronic inflammation that contributes to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and a host of other ills.
  • Helps protect against depression, ADHD, high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, vision problems and asthma.
  • Reduce the risk for breast cancer, improve brain function, help maintain healthy weight, support healthy skin and slow the aging process.
  • Protect against chromosome damage associated with aging and age-related disease.

This being said, I still hold to my recommendation of getting plenty of fish in your diet and supplementing with a cold-water fish oil that contains at least 360 mg. of DHA and 540 mg. of EPA.

Resources:

Brasky TM, et al. Plasma Phospholipid Fatty Acids and Prostate Cancer Risk in the SELECT Trial. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2013 Jul 10. [Epub ahead of print]

Aronson WJ, et al. Modulation of omega-3/omega-6 polyunsaturated ratios with dietary fish oils in men with prostate cancer. Urology. 2001;58(2):283-288.

Terry P, et al. Fatty fish consumption and risk of prostate cancer. Lancet. 2001;357(9270):1764-1766.

University of Maryland Medical Center.

Ramin Farzaneh-Far, et al. Association of Marine Omega-3 Fatty Acid Levels With Telomeric Aging in Patients With Coronary Heart Disease. JAMA, 2010; 303 (3): 250-257

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