Omega-3 fatty acids may be linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer, according to the results of a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in U.S. men. In 2010 there were roughly 217,000 new diagnoses of prostate cancer and more than 32,000 deaths from the disease. Research continues to focus on the influence of diet and lifestyle on the risk of cancer.
Omega-3s, are essential fatty acids made up of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and can be found in salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, and walnuts. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are considered brain foods—these essential fatty acids actually “cushion” the brain cells. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve mood, memory, and overall wellbeing. They have been linked to a decrease in depression and a decreased risk of dementia later in life.
The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) included more than 35,000 men over the age of 50 in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Canada. A case-cohort study examined associations between blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and prostate cancer risk. The analysis included 834 men from the trial who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and a control group of 1,393 men selected randomly from all 35,000 participants.
The analysis found that men with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids had a 43 percent higher risk of developing prostate cancer and a 71 percent higher risk of developing high-grade prostate cancer, which is more likely to be fatal. Because the study did not collect information on the men’s diets—only on supplements—it is not clear whether blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids came from food or supplements.
The researchers included that high blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids were associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer. More research is needed to confirm the link. In the meantime, men need not avoid fish—but instead should consume a healthy, balanced diet rich in a variety of nutrients.
Brasky TM, Darke AK, Song X, et al. Plasma phospholipid fatty acids and prostate cancer risk in the SELECT trial. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2013; 105(15): 1132-1141.
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