Does Fish Oil Really Cause Prostate Cancer?


At Cenegenics, we offer value to our patients by providing cutting-edge programs, world-class service and, on occasion, insights into current news from the world of medicine. The following article was written for Cenegenics’ patients by Dr. Raymond Ishman, President of Cenegenics Philadelphia, in cooperation with Dr. George Shapiro, cardiologist and Co-President of Cenegenics New York. A handful of recent studies have linked omega-3 oils (or fish oil) to increased risk for prostate cancer, a claim that has obviously caused many of you a great deal of concern. In matters of health, it is important to look at a broad base of research and separate fact from fiction – which is what I’ll do in the following paragraphs. Let me start by stating that, despite these recent claims, I’ll continue taking my fish oil! We at Cenegenics continue to advocate the use of fish oils for their well-documented beneficial effects related to cardiovascular disease, cognitive function and arthritis. Contrary the recent study, the vast majority of medical research suggests that fish oil has no relationship to prostate cancer. Several studies even indicate it may prevent cancer. Here are a few examples:

  • The rate of prostate cancer in the US is roughly 10 times higher than in Japan, where fish oil consumption is 8 times higher.
  • The same team behind the most recent report linking prostate cancer to fish oil concluded in 2011 that the use of fish oil supplements was not associated with an increased risk for prostate cancer.
  • A 2010 meta-analysis of fish consumption and prostate cancer reported no overall relationship.
  • Two studies from 2001-2002 reported higher fish intake was associated with lower risk for prostate cancer and death.
  • A 2010 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association and a separate 2012 study found that higher fish oil intake predicted better survival for men who already had prostate cancer. Additionally, there are problems with the recent study that limits its usefulness:
    • The most recent study does not specifically link taking fish oil supplements to prostate cancer. Instead it focuses on omega-3 levels in the blood, which can be affected by other factors like diet, metabolism and genetics.
    • These studies do not reveal a direct cause and effect, only an association. These are very different. It’s possible, for example, that carcinogens in the fish these particular subjects ate increased their prostate cancer risk.
    • The differences in fish oil levels between groups in the study were very small, ranging from 3.62% in the control group to 3.67% in the low-grade cancer group to 3.74% in the high-grade group). Although statistically significant, these levels are essentially within normal variation.

Higher omega-3 levels are associated with lower rates of death from any cause. Higher levels are also associated with slower rates of cellular aging. The bottom line is that the risk/benefit analysis for fish oil remains very favorable. Don’t let distorted media attention or erroneous interpretation of a study or two prevent you from realizing the health benefits of taking fish oil. Doing so could lead to severe cardiovascular consequences, including death for some. For more information, feel free to contact your Cenegenics physician or nutritionist.

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