Omega-3 Connected to Prostate Cancer

April 27, 2011

Researchers have discovered that the popular fatty acid used to fight heart disease is connected to men developing high-grade prostate cancer.

For years, experts hailed the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids as a possible deterrent against developing heart disease; but a recent study published in the April 25th issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology reveals that high levels of omega-3 can potentially damage the prostate.

Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, studied data collected from 3,400 men nationally who consumed omega-3 in their daily diet. The majority of the participants reportedly received their daily dose of omega-3 through the consumption of fish instead of supplements.

They ascertained that the men with the highest concentrations of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which can be found in types of omega-3 are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from an aggressive form of prostate cancer.

"We were stunned to see these results and we spent a lot of time making sure the analyses were correct," said Theodore Brasky, leader of the study and a research fellow at the Cancer Prevention Program at Huthchinson. "Our findings turn what we know—or rather what we think we know—about diet, inflammation and the development of prostate cancer on its head."

Additionally, the study discovered another surprising statistic: men possessing the highest blood ratios of trans-fatty acids—found typically in processed foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and know for causing inflammation and heart disease—actually had a reduced risk of developing high-grade prostate cancer; their chances were reduced by about 50 percent.

The study acknowledged that neither the omega-3 fatty acids nor trans-fatty acids were found to correlate with the risk of developing low-grade prostate cancer risk.

The research team stated that, while they were initially surprised by the results of their research, their findings show the “complexity of nutrition and its impact on disease risk, and that we should study such associations rigorously, rather than make assumptions.”

Brasky added, "Overall, the beneficial effects of eating fish to prevent heart disease outweigh any harm related to prostate cancer risk," and suggested that men who are at risk of developing heart disease should maintain the practice of eating fish or consuming supplements of omega-3 fatty acids as a part of their diet.

The reasoning of why omega-3 has such a risk of raising the risk of developing high-grade prostate cancer is unknown. "Besides inflammation, omega-3 fats affect other biologic processes,” said Brasky. “It may be that these mechanisms play a greater role in the development of certain prostate cancers. This is certainly an area that needs more research."