Thursday, July 11, 2013

Throws Up Hands in Disgust

Omega-3 fatty acids are supposed to reduce your risk of heart disease, right?  My cardiologist agrees, so I started taking one of these fish oil supplements.  (After a traumatic experience with a fish as a small child, I have a hard time eating fish that I can recognize as fish.)  But this article from July 10, 2013 NBC News reports that a recent survey finds that high doses of omega-3 fatty acids increases the risk of prostate cancer.
But a startling study shows men who have the highest levels of these compounds – the kinds found in fish but not in vegetable sources -- have a higher risk of prostate cancer. Men with the very highest levels had a 71 percent higher risk of high-grade prostate cancer – the kind most likely to spread and kill, they report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
It might be a sign that popping a pill is not only possibly a waste of money – it might be downright dangerous. And eating fish too often might be, also.
“These fish oil supplements in which some men getting mega, mega doses…in our opinion that is probably a little bit dangerous,” said Theodore Brasky of Ohio State University Medical Center, who worked on the study with a team from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
Even worse, the article goes on to report that even the supposed benefits for heart disease may turn out to be overrated:
But the researchers point out that recent studies have shown taking extra omega-3 has little effect on heart disease – including a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in May. 
That article is pretty interesting -- it describes a study where people at high risk for heart disease, but who were being aggressively treated:
They had not suffered a heart attack but were at high risk of having one because of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity or other conditions. Most already were taking cholesterol-lowering statins, aspirin and other medicines to lower their chances of heart problems.
 And yet the fish oil supplements were no more effective than placebos in reducing hospitalization for heart disease.  And fish oil supplement makers paid for this study.  (I bet they wish that they hadn't.)  What is fascinating to me is that the article quotes an expert who essentially argues that people who eat high fish diets are probably more focused on good health anyway, and that supplements aren't effective alternatives to healthy eating:
"People who choose to eat more fish are more likely to eat heart healthier diets and engage in more physical activity," and studies testing the benefit of supplements may not be able to completely adjust for differences like these, said Alice Lichtenstein, director of the cardiovascular nutrition lab at Tufts University in Boston.
I have a brother-in-law who is skinny, backpacks, bicycles, eats a diet that seems positively hippie compared to me -- and just had surgery for prostate cancer, which appeared quite unexpectedly in his late 50s.  I have read that people who are skinny are more prone to cancers, and those who are overweight are more prone to heart disease.  Perhaps all we are doing is picking different poisons? 


  1. I think there's a lot more to the story, considering the wealth of evidence that the omega-3 PUFAs are helpful. My very first thought is nutrient imbalance. While omega-6 PUFAs are required, they have to stay in a proper ratio to omega-3s. There are a lot of problems caused by having way too much omega-6 and too little omega-3. I would investigate the inverse in this instance-- too much omega-3 balanced against omega-6 or other nutrients.

    People weren't created to ingest any of these nutrients in highly purified forms, the way we do today.

  2. Certainly exercise helps, look how well it worked for Jim Fixx. Now that I'm retired and out from behind a desk, the daily bike rides have made the A-Frib symptoms disappear. Eating carefully also helps. Moderation and wide variety seems to be the right approach, or you can take Steve Graham's approach:

    Remember, monks don't actually live any longer than the rest of us, it just seems like it.

  3. Actually, you don't need all that much of omega-3's. The problem is that omega 3's and omega 6's are processed by the same biochemical processes, and an excess intake of one blocks the uptake of the other.

    The idea ratio of o-6 to o-3 is from 1-1 to 4-1. Eating the Standard American Diet (SAD), most people are getting a ratio exceeding 20-1.

    Adding fish oil can improve this ratio, but cutting back on processed vegetable oils can improve it more.

    Stop using corn, peanut, soybean, safflower, cottonseed, canola, and other processed seed oils.

    Use o-9 MUFAs for for uses that don't involve heat (virgin olive oil), and use saturated fats for uses that do. (Coconut oil, macadamia nut oil, butter, ghee, tallow, lard).