For years, fish oil has been the darling of alternative medicine. It's been touted as a healing nutrient for everything from arthritis to heart disease to cancer.
But a new article in the Journal of the American Medical Association states that fish oil and other omega-3s not only don't fight cancer, but might even contribute to it.
For this article, the authors evaluated 65 already-published studies to reach a consensus. They found conflicting evidence for an association with cancer risk across many of the studies.
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For example, they found one study indicating an increased risk of breast cancer . three other other studies suggesting a decreased risk ... and seven others showing no significant association between breast-cancer risk and omega-3 consumption. For lung cancer and omega-3, one study showed a triple increased risk and another showed a two-thirds decreased risk. Four others showed no significant associations. And for prostate cancer, one study showed a nearly double increased risk and one estimated a nearly 60% decreased risk. And 15 others found no association at all.
So how do we interpret this?
The first thing you should know is that not all studies are good ones, not even the ones published in fancy medical journals. Recent scandals have shown that medical research is rife with researchers setting up studies to give them the results they want, not necessarily the truth. I don't know if that type of agenda was behind this study, but I think there's great reason to question the results.
In this study, the authors depended upon previously done studies that were based on dietary questionnaires. These studies are always very suspect. And to draw definitive conclusions from them puts the whole study into question. How do we know the surveys were accurate? How do we know the entire picture of the studied population? Did the studies evaluate for the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids? (No, they didn't.) That's what might be most important.
All of the examined studies were deficient. They had no way to evaluate the level of antioxidants taken in by the studied groups. Why is that important? If your diet is rich in highly unsaturated fatty acids, the lack of antioxidants may allow the fish oils to become rancid (oxidized) negating any beneficial effects.
The studies I like best when it comes to this subject are those that actually measure the amount of fatty acids in the blood or body tissues. In the case of prostate cancer, for example, it has been shown that there's a lack of omega-3 fatty acids when cancer is present. But this study didn't examine any of these studies. So I think the conclusions of this study are completely wrong. Even worse, these conclusions are dangerous.
How many people will stop taking fish oils based on such shabby research? Don't be one of them! Continue to take your fish oils.
They are some of the best supplements available. I also recommend you eat plenty of wild Alaskan salmon. It's the only fish I'm comfortable recommending because it has the least mercury contamination of all the fish you can eat.
For this same reason, make sure your supplements say they are contaminant free. I particularly like Carlson's and the fish oil that comes with Healthy Resolve's Max Plus.
Ref: Journal of the American Medical Association, January 25, 2006.