Research & Education

Something is Fishy about Omega 3s causing aggressive Prostate Cancer

I heard about this this study from a news wire late yesterday evening and already received about a dozen emails from patients friends and colleagues on the latest news suggesting that omega-3 fatty acids increases the risk of prostate cancer including aggressive prostate cancer.

HERE is the link to the abstract of the study

Details of the study:

  • Brasky et al. looked at collected data and specimens from the SELECT trial which showed in a study that those men who consumed synthetic form of vitamin E had a 17% chance of developing prostate cancer More on the SELECT trial and synthetic vitamin E HERE
  • The findings indicate that high concentrations of EPA DPA and DHA the three anti-inflammatory and metabolically related fatty acids derived from fatty fish and fish-oil supplements are associated with a 71 percent increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer.
  • The study also found a 44 percent increase in the risk of low-grade prostate cancer and an overall 43 percent increase in risk for all prostate cancers. (Brasky et al. 2013)
  • What's even more interesting is that Omega 6 fatty acids were associated with lower risks of total prostate cancer(Brasky et al. 2013)

Interestingly this same study group published a paper in 2011 showing Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) was positively associated with high-grade prostate cancer but trans-fatty acids found in participants blood showed a DECREASE risk of aggressive prostate cancer.(Brasky et al. 2011)

That's right the same trans fatty acids from margarine and cooked oils that contribute to heart disease. Yes the same type of fat that is banned from New York restaurants.

Omega 6 fatty acids has shown to have an adverse effect if taken in excess and has been implicated in the development of several cancers including prostate (Berquin et al. 2007). Omega 6 fatty acids (namely arachidonic acid) is converted by CycloOxygenase -2 enzyme into prostaglandin E2 a pro-inflammatory molecule implicated in the development of numerous cancers (Wang et al. 2007)
Imbalanced Omega 6: Omega 3 ratios (higher Omega 6) have shown to increase the risk of prostate cancer (Leitzmann et al. 2004)

Take home message from both Brasky studies: Eat more trans fatty and omega 6 fatty acids and men will prevent aggressive prostate cancer.  I don't know about this. This smell too well  fishy.

My take on this (thus far)

One must be very careful with making decisions based on the latest news bytes and headlines. We as a society have a tendency to make decisions based on the last study or news advertised rather than the combination of studies published on a specific topic.

The last study is not necessarily the best study.

In addition studies should be read critically there are inherent flaws in most of them.

The findings from Brasky et al. 2013 seem to be a retrospective study (looking back in time) and does NOT show cause and effect.

Studies that are prospective in design rank higher in importance of evidence and are more useful and suggestive in our decision making on what to consume to improve our health.

Are there prospective studies showing protective benefits of omega 3 fatty acids against prostate cancer?


Researchers investigated the effect of dietary fish intake amongst 6272 Swedish men who were followed-up for 30 years. That study reported that men who ate no fish had a two three-fold increase in the risk of developing prostate cancer compared with those who consumed large amounts of fish in their diet. (Terry et al. 2001)
Another prospective cohort study based on the Physician's Health Study found that fish consumption (5 times per week) was not related to prostate cancer risk but was protective of prostate cancer specific death.(Chavarro et al. 2008)
Other studies have suggested lower prostate cancer risk with Omega 3 fatty acids from fish in Swedish men (Norrish AE et al.) and in Japanese and Brazilian men (Kobayashi et al. 1999).

A large prospective cohort established in 1986 looked at 51529 American men 40  75 years of age completed a mailed questionnaire about demographic and medical information found that a high intake of fish was associated with a lower risk of metastatic prostate cancer. A similar association was also found for dietary marine fatty acids from food.

An important clinical study published by a group at the Harvard School of Public Health examined the link between dietary fish consumption and the risk of metastatic prostate cancer. This paper reported results from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study that involved 47882 men over twelve years. During the twelve years 2483 cases of prostate cancer were identified. Of these 617 were advanced and 278 were metastatic. Eating fish more than three times a week reduced the risk of prostate cancer but had an even greater impact on the risk of metastatic prostate cancer. For each additional 500 mg of marine fat consumed the risk of metastatic disease decreased by 24%! (Augustsson et al. 2003).

In a meta-analysis (a study of studies) Szymanski and his team found that a significant 63% reduction in prostate cancer-specific mortality in those that consumed fish but no link between eating lots of fish and men's risk of developing prostate cancer. (Szymanski et al. 2010).

Am I getting carried away with all these citations yet?

I know the content became scientifically heavy but I just wanted to make a point that there are reason's why many practitioners like myself recommend fish and fish oils to patients.

Final note and Doggy Bag

Most men will develop prostate cancer within time regardless of what they eat or don't eat. If you live long enough you'll get it. The deadly kind is what we are trying to avoid.

The 71% aggressive prostate cancer associated with Omega 3 fatty acid consumption sounds dubious.

The fish oils from fish or supplements in the study did not control for the quality of fish or fish oil. Some fish (and fish oil supplements) can contain environmental chemicals that can contribute to prostate cancer such as PCB (Ritche et al. 2005). Also fish oils can oxidize easily if not careful which may make them more damaging. This was not accounted for in this study.

Personally I am not ready to ignore the plethora of research suggesting its beneficial effects.

I just popped 3 fish oils a minute ago. I am not making any personal changes on my fish oil consumption based on a blood test of Omega 3 fatty acids from a retrospective study. In my opinion this study is informative mildly suggestive but weak.

I do recommend for readers to be properly monitored by a nutritionally oriented physician when making dietary choices. There are individual nuances where indeed a nutrient can potentially make health matters worse.

Lastly (whew!) another shortcoming of both Brasky studies is that we do not know the diet of the studied subjects.

The consumption of fish or fish oil supplements with crappy food does not make the crappy food less crappy. Another words a poor diet with fish or fish oils will not protect men from prostate cancer.

This is a hot topic so chime in if you'd like.


by Geo Espinosa N.D. L.Ac CNS


Click here to visit Dr. Espinosa's blog 


About Dr. Espinosa:

Geo Espinosa N.D. L.Ac CNS is the Director of the Integrative Urology Center at New York University Langone Medical Center. Before joining NYU Dr. Geo was a clinician researcher and director of clinical trials at the Center for Holistic Urology at Columbia University Medical Center. He is a licensed naturopathic doctor licensed acupuncturist and Certified Nutrition Specialist. Dr. Geo did his residency/fellowship in Urology at Columbia University Medical Center Department of Urology under Dr. Aaron Katz. His research and practice are exclusive to prostate disorders general urology and men's health. Dr. Geo is a member of the American Herbalist Guild the American Urological Association and the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

Dr. Geo is an author of the naturopathic entry in ""1000 Cures for 200 Ailments"" by Harper Collins; March 2007 and ""Prostate cancer Nutrients that may slow its progression"" Chapter 40 in Food and Nutrients in Disease Management - Maryland: Cadmus Publishing 2009. He has authored papers on prostate cancer and BPH in the journal of European Urology and Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice respectively. In addition he has written on integrative approaches for urologic conditions in the Washington Post Body and Soul magazine NDNR Insight - Prostate Cancer Research Institute newsletter and Bottom line health.

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Terry P Lichtenstein P Feychting M Ahlbom A Wolk A. Fatty fish consumption and risk of prostate cancer. Lancet 2001; 357: 17646

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Augustsson K. et al. A prospective study of intake of fish and marine fatty acids and prostate cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 12(1): p. 64-7 2003.

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