In recent years, health conscious Americans have embraced the use of supplements as never before. Americans spend over $20 billion annually on supplements, according to a study conducted by the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, and nearly $34 billion a year total on vitamins and supplements combined.
While research has challenged the overall impact taking supplements has on the body, many Americans operate under the belief that whatever healthy benefits supplements may offer is better than none at all. This belief has led to a culture where millions of Americans take supplements regardless of diet and actual need.
One of the most popular supplements used today is fish oil, which studies have found helps to improve heart health. While it might seem like a healthy idea to load up on fish oil, a new study suggests that eating too much fish oil or taking supplements may increase a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer.
According to researchers at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, individuals who consumed high levels of the omega-3 anti-inflammatories found in fish oil overall had a 43 percent higher risk of developing prostate cancer and a 71 percent greater risk of developing an aggressive form of the disease.
The results of this study were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
A Suddenly Unhealthy Alternative
For years, doctors have been touting the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, found in such cold water fish as tuna, trout, and salmon, due to the substance’s anti-inflammatory properties. However, the findings of this latest study confirm suspicions raised by two earlier studies that examined the effects of fish oil on heart health.
While researchers have found a now established link between prostate cancer and omega-3s, what links the two remains a mystery. Researchers speculate that omega-3 fatty acids may have certain characteristics not fully understood when consumed at high levels that could contribute to oxidative stress, which can result in damage to DNA and possibly increase a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer.
The results of this study come shortly on the heels of another study that found the long-term benefits of omega-3 supplements greatly overstated. An Italian study published earlier in 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine found no evidence to support the claim that omega-3 supplements lowered an individual’s risk of stroke, heart attack, or heart disease.
Researchers involved in the Italian study cautioned that while all fatty acids have long been described as having anti-inflammatory properties, overall diet and nutrition play a much larger role in how the body processes substances such as omega-3 than initially believed. While the consumption of fish high in omega-3 has shown promise when it comes to improving heart health, fatty acids don’t seem as effective when consumed as a supplement.
A Change of Diet
Based on the data, researchers are recommending that men reduce the amount of fatty fish and fish oil supplements they consume daily. Unless otherwise instructed by a doctor, men who consume three or more servings of fatty fish a week should stop taking a fish oil supplement entirely.
If you don’t currently take supplements, talk with your doctor prior to starting any supplement or vitamin regime to determine how much, if any, your diet needs.
Timothy Lemke is a freelance health and science writer. To read more of his work, visit the website of Dr. Jeromy Dixon, a Longview, WA dentist.