Omega-3 fatty acids likely NOT associated with prostate cancer

A weakly constructed study was reported recently that purportedly associated higher levels of omega-3 fatty acid blood levels and prostate cancer. See this CBS News report, for instance.

Lipid and omega-3 fat expert, Dr. William Harris, posted this concise critique of the study, exposing some fundamental problems:

First, the reported EPA+DHA level in the plasma phospholipids in this study was 3.62% in the no-cancer control group, 3.66% in the total cancer group, 3.67% in the low grade cancer group, and 3.74% in the high-grade group. These differences between cases and controls are very small and would have no meaning clinically as they are within the normal variation. Based on experiments in our lab, the lowest quartile would correspond to an HS-Omega-3 Index of <3.16% and the highest to an Index of >4.77%). These values are obviously low, and virtually none of the subjects was in “danger” of having an HS-Omega-3 Index of >8%. So to conclude that regular consumption of 2 oily fish meals a week or taking fish oil supplements (both of which would result in an Index above the observed range) would increase risk for prostate cancer is extrapolating beyond the data.

This study did not test the question of whether giving fish oil supplements (or eating more oily fish) increased PC risk; it looked only a blood levels of omega-3 which are determined by intake, other dietary factors, metabolism and genetics.

The authors also failed to present the fuller story taught by the literature. The same team reported in 2010 that the use of fish oil supplements was not associated with any increased risk for prostate cancer. A 2010 meta-analysis of fish consumption and prostate cancer reported a reduction in late stage or fatal cancer among cohort studies, but no overall relationship between prostate cancer and fish intake. Terry et al. in 2001 reported higher fish intake was associated with lower risk for prostate cancer incidence and death, and Leitzmann et al. in 2004 reported similar findings. Higher intakes of canned, preserved fish were reported to be associated with reduced risk for prostate cancer. Epstein et al found that a higher omega-3 fatty acid intake predicted better survival for men who already had prostate cancer, and increased fish intake was associated with a 63% reduction in risk for aggressive prostate cancer in a case-control study by Fradet et al). So there is considerable evidence actually FAVORING an increase in fish intake for prostate cancer risk reduction.

Another piece of the picture is to compare prostate cancer rates in Japan vs the US. Here is a quote from the World Foundation of Urology:

"[Prostate cancer] incidence is really high in North America and Northern Europe (e.g., 63 X 100,000 white men and 102 X 100,000 Afro-Americans in the United States), but very low in Asia (e.g., 10 X 100,000 men in Japan).”

Since the Japanese typically eat about 8x more omega-3 fatty acids than Americans do and their
blood levels are twice as high, you’d think their prostate cancer risk would be much higher...
but the opposite is the case.

Omega-3 fatty acids are physiologically necessary, normalizing multiple metabolic phenomena including augmentation of parasympathetic tone, reductions of postprandial (after-meal) lipoprotein excursions, and endothelial function. It would indeed make no sense that nutrients that are necessary for life and health exert an adverse effect such as prostate cancer at such low blood levels. (Recall that an omega-3 RBC index of 6.0% or greater is associated with reduced potential for sudden cardiac death.)

I personally take 3600 mg per day of EPA + DHA in highly-purified, non-oxidized triglyceride form (Ascenta Nutrasea liquid) that yields an RBC omega-3 index of just over 10%, the level that I believe the overwhelming bulk of data suggest is the ideal level for humans.

Comments (6) -

  • Jeff

    7/23/2013 10:56:11 PM |

    Can you advise where you get the Nutrasea Liquid that you mention you personally use above?.  I'm not finding any in the 3600mg range.  I couldn't find any where 2 doses equals that amount either.  Looking for high quality Omega 3's that are not sourced from Krill due to shell fish allergy.  Currently taking fish oil gel caplets of dubious quality.  Thanks in advance.

  • pickinthefive

    7/29/2013 5:58:45 PM |

    Hi Dr. Davis,
    A question I would have.  If you are at a known risk for prostate cancer, i.e. father or uncle's already have it, or in my case a reletively high PSA and symptoms of BPH, would it be wise to avoid the Omega 3's ?
    Thank you,

  • Edwin

    8/14/2013 9:27:43 AM |

    So my eating a canned salmon sandwich for lunch most days which has about 1g of Omega3 (I take no supplements) should be safe?

  • Stephen in Anaheim

    8/15/2013 5:29:38 AM |

    I have to say that this is a great thing to read! In most dietary articles that I stumble across nowadays, I can find at least a paragraph or more on why people should be adding more Omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. In fact, I have read that Omega-3 can be quite beneficial for a number of medical conditions ranging from childhood asthma to fibromyalgia. It is scary to think that it could associated with a higher risk of prostate cancer, even though the underlying study was not well constructed.

  • Edward

    8/16/2013 3:08:29 AM |

    Dr. Davis,
    I take fish oil from a brand called "Carlson fish oil" it contains omega 3 fish oil 1,600. What would be the highest safest amount a person can take in Omega 3 in your experience from your patients and practice? What are your thoughts on the Linus Pauling Heart therapy which calls for a person taking at least 10 grams of vitamin C and 3-5 grams of Lysine in order to reverse plaque and heart disease? I have read the two time Nobel prize winner's books and his writings on heart disease are compelling. I would love the insight from an actual cardiologist with a practice to confirm what works and doesn't work.

  • Edward

    8/16/2013 1:19:06 PM |

    Dr. Davis,
    How much fish oil would you consider the highest and safest dosage for a person to take for heart disease and would the dosage a person who is healthy or heart problems differ?

When MIGHT statins be helpful?

When MIGHT statins be helpful?

I spend a lot of my day bashing statin drugs and helping people get rid of them.

But are there instances in which statin drugs do indeed provide real advantage? If someone follows the diet I've articulated in these posts and in the Track Your Plaque program, supplements omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, normalizes thyroid measures, and identifies and corrects hidden genetic sources of cardiovascular risk (e.g., Lp(a)), then are there any people who obtain incremental benefit from use of a statin drug?

I believe there are some groups of people who do indeed do better with statin drugs. These include:

Apoprotein E4 homozygotes

Apoprotein E2 homozygotes

Familial combined hyperlipidemia (apoprotein B overproduction and/or defective degradation)

Cholesteryl ester transfer protein homozygotes (though occasionally manageable strictly with diet)

Familial heterozygous hypercholesterolemia, familial homozygous hypercholesterolemia

Other rare variants, e.g., apo B and C variants

The vast majority of people now taking statin drugs do NOT have the above genetic diagnoses. The majority either have increased LDL from the absurd "cut your fat, eat more healthy whole grains" diet that introduces grotesque distortions into metabolism (like skyrocketing apo B/VLDL and small LDL particles) or have misleading calculated LDL cholesterol values (since conventional LDL is calculated, not measured).

As time passes, we are witnessing more and more people slow, stop, or reverse coronary plaque using no statin drugs.

Like antibiotics and other drugs, there may be an appropriate time and situation in which they are helpful, but not for every sneeze, runny nose, or chill. Same with statin drugs: There may be an occasional person who, for genetically-determined reasons, is unable to, for example, clear postprandial (after-eating) lipoproteins from the bloodstream and thereby develops coronary atherosclerotic plaque and heart attack at age 40. But these people are the exception.

Comments (17) -

  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    4/8/2011 12:21:11 AM |

    I don't know how individuals with mis-sense SNP for gluco-kinase regulatory protein (ex: GCKR rs780094) fit into the pattern. They get more liver steatosis (fat build up) with attendant elevated LDL and triglycerides, despite less fasting glucose and less fasting insulin numbers; while their 2 hour blood glucose runs high (GCK gene is very determinate of 2 hour glucose levels), showing down-regulation of the homeostatic model for Beta cell function (HOMA-B).

    Normally GCKR regulates triglycerides and determines persons glycemic traits by governing how glucose is stored and how it is dispersed. GCKR also geneticly regulates the availablility of substrate used for de-novo lipo-genesis.

    Gene SNP of protein phosphatase 1regulatory (inhibitor) subunit 3 B (PP1R3B rs4240624) manifests increased liver steatosis  and both elevated LDL and elevated HDL; with low fasting glucose. PPP1R3B codes for controling protein and modulates the break down of glycogen (storage glucose moleccule).

    Together PPP1R3B and GCKR are integral to blood sugar dynamics and the levels of lipids in circulation.

    If Doc's regimen counter-balances individual missense genetic workings, like those above, then that is impressive corrrection achieved through intervention . I presume for people with liver steatosis missense mutations (ie:  SNPs like above) elevated LDL treatment using statins would be bad for their liver.

  • Dr. John

    4/8/2011 1:10:14 AM |

    Statins might be helpful if you have bacterial pneumonia:

    That's because the rapidly growing pneumococcal bacteria are very susceptible to HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (statins). The bacteria have similar cholesterol compounds (hopanoids) in their membranes, essential for their membrane function. With the statins blocking the hopanoids, they die....very quickly.

    All bacteria have a mevalonate pathway.  The HMG-CoA reductase enzyme is inhibited in bacteria and are VERY toxic to bacteria. So thus, you have a "statin-benefit" because it kills the bacteria, before it kills or injures the patient.

    Statins can essentially inhibit biological life forms.
    Dr. John

  • Dr. William Davis

    4/8/2011 1:11:01 AM |

    HI, Might--

    As usual, you've come out of left field with a totally unexpected issue!

    I'm not sure how this genetic variant fits into this argument. It is, to my knowledge, a very rare diagnosis.

  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    4/8/2011 6:40:15 PM |

    I don't envy Doc trying to sort out who needs what treatment. Genetic high cholesterol entails over 50 amino acid variations out the jumble of 692 amino acids assembled into relevant complexes.

    Pro-protein convertase subtilisin/kexin-9 (PCSK9)is involved in familiar hyper-cholestemia. Those who make too much PCSK9 (in the liver and small intestine) rapidly degrade their cholesterol receptors and can't pluck much LDL out of circulation; plasma cholesterol rises.

    Should one's genetics foster making too little PCSK9, then cholesterol receptors don't degrade. This promptly shunts cholesterol into the liver lysosome (an organelle inside a cell)for break down; thus they  measure low cholesterol in the blood.

    I speculate Doc's diet, in "normal" genetic people up-regulates cholesterol reception. Which means his program has the epigenetic effect (from diet dynamics) on "normal" liver/small intestine genes in a way that less PCSK9 is expressed

    The caucasian anglo-saxon PCSK9 D374Y mutation causes 4 times the normal cholesterol in patients. Their risk factor for pre-mature death is 10 years earlier than even more benign PCSK9 mutations; so Detective Doc Davis is willing to prescribe statins for people like them.

  • Anonymous

    4/9/2011 2:59:55 AM |

    I might be one of these poor souls.

    Eating a strict diet, one Dr Davis would be very proud of... I'm lean as can be, feel great, but my cholesterol shot through roof (while HDL dropped).    


  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    4/9/2011 4:53:48 AM |

    Hi Annon.,
    Internet self-diagnosing shouldn't replace a good medical consultant. My comments are not qualified medical assesments; am a layman.  

    My favorite cousin has had her cholesterol testing well over 300for several decades, and is now in her late 70s. Like Doc chided me earlier, there are "genetic variant" being "very rare diagnosis."

  • Lucy

    4/9/2011 11:47:29 AM |

    What do you think about KIF6?   I was tested and found to be a non-carrier, and I was subsequently told that statins would likely not benefit me as much as diet/lifestyle changes (I'm ApoE 3/4 as well).  Does that also mean that niacin would not help?

  • Anonymous

    4/9/2011 12:52:56 PM |

    To say the least, I am very disappointed in Dr. Davis' stance regarding ApoE 4 & statins. There is abundant evidence suggesting statins are counterproductive to brain health, which is much more pronounced in Apo E4's who are already at high risk for alzheimers disease. It isn't only about lipids, there is a larger picture to consider. The brain requires cholesterol.  Also, high cholesterol levels are associated with longevity in the elderly.

  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    4/9/2011 7:44:42 PM |

    Alzheimers and the relationship of ApoE4 is different than other ApoE isoforms (like ApoE 2 & 3). In normal people ApoE is integral to clearing amyloid Beta from the brain; it forms a conjugate (ApoE/AmyloidB)that is moved out across the brain blood barrier by LRP-1 (lipo-protein related protein 1).

    ApoE4 is acted upon (cleaved) in brain neurons, yielding rump fragments with unique Carbon- terminals; and,  ApoE4 degrades easier than ApoE 2 &/or 3. These ApoE4 fragments, when in a brain cell's cytosol, influence that cell's mitochondria hydro-phobic pattern of lipid binding.

    The ApoE4 fragment properties  do 2 unwanted things to the brain cell mitochondria. It decreases the mitochondria ability to perform tasks involved in glycolysis (glucose energy). And is antagonistic to PPAR gamma; PPAR gamma is what would otherwise promote adequate mitochondria bio-genesis.

    ALzheimer lesions show higher amounts when measured in individuals with concurrent Type II diabetes and the ApoE4 isoform. The ratio of insulin in the cerebro-spinal fluid to the amount of insulin in the blood also shows a difference depending on the specific ApoE geno-type.

    Alzheimer brains are using less glucose; patients show less receptors for insulin-like growth factor and insulin, as well as less insulin degrading enzymes. It is postulated that depending on the individual's ApoE variation there is a different amyloid Beta response to brain insulin.

    Normally one goes from glucose intolerance to hyperglycemia and then elevated insulin circulating as become diabetic. Yet experiments show that giving insulin improves diabetic neuro-pathy in the brain; it seems to be a way peripheral insulin resistance causes different tissues to respond.

    In Alzheimer experiments with supplemental insulin (nasal, etc.)administration cognitive function improved. This response was more significant in those with the ApoE4 allele (compared to other ApoE types with Alzheimers, who also improved cognition ).

    So, the Alzheimer enigma seems to involve energy format dynamics for ApoE isoforms more than specific levels of cholesterol. This is not a comment on ApoE homo-zygote genes relationship to cardio-vascular risk factors, or brain lipid metabolism.

  • homertobias

    4/11/2011 3:36:34 PM |

    You sound like Suzanne Craft.  I like her work.

  • Medicomp INC.

    4/12/2011 4:06:52 PM |

    You make an excellent point here: more healthy whole grains" diet that introduces grotesque distortions into metabolism

    We are encouraged by transient sources that this is almost always the best alternative for other fattening foods, yet people never really delve deep into the cons of this transition either.  It truly does take dedication to be well-informed about the dietary changes you make in your lifestyle.

  • Anne

    9/18/2011 5:58:38 PM |

    I had a body scan a few years ago, and my plaque count was 1050, when they told me that 150 was considered high, I thought  I would implode at any moment, I went to a lot of different cardiologists and had all kinds of tests and they said to exercise and not  worry about the plaque. One Dr. put me on lipitor and 3 days later I could hardly walk from the muscle pain, he told me to stop taking it and I tried niacin and red rice with the same results. I don't know how to reduce the plaque, the Dr's all said it was hereditary . I am open to any advice.

  • Dr. William Davis

    9/20/2011 12:43:37 PM |

    Hi, Anne--

    Note that this is the blog that accompanies the Track Your Plaque program that focuses on just this issue. It means 1) identify all causes of plaque, then 2) correct them, preferably using natural means.

  • JK

    10/30/2011 4:52:34 PM |

    Dr. Davis,
    I don't know if you have already addressed this topic in prior posts but allow me to suggest that in lieu of consuming statin drugs, even for the aforementioned outliers, it is possible to achieve reduced LDL cholesterol and increased HDL cholesterol by supplementing with magnesium.
    (All the ensuing statements below I humbly attribute to Mildred S. Seelig and Andrea Rosanoff, "The Magnesium Factor," pages 139-147.)
    1. Statins (Lipitor, Zocor, Baycol, Mevacor, etc.) are designed to lower cholesterol by inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase, which is the enzyme responsible for the synthesis of cholesterol.
    2. These drugs when studied, not only lower cholesterol, but also reduce total mortality, cardiac mortality, the total incidence of heart attacks, angina, and other non-fatal cardiac events. (p.140.)
    3. They also made the blood platelets less sticky, they slowed the progression of plaques and stabilized them, and they reduced inflammation in the blood vessel tissue. (ibid.)
    All these results, and more, Seelig further informs the reader, are a result of reduced mevalonate in the cells, which is the direct result of an inhibited HMG-CoA reductase, which is the enzyme that statins are designed to inhibit.
    Now stay with me for a second because here is where it gets interesting.
    4. Magnesium is a natural inhibitor of HMG-CoA reductase. Here magnesium and statins are comparable (p. 141.)
    5. Magnesium also acts on two enzymes, phosphatase reductase and phosphohydrolase which reactivate HMG-CoA reductase. By its effects on these enzymes, which contrast one another, magnesium can either stop cholesterol formation or allow it to continue depending on the body's needs.
    6. Magnesium also activates another enzyme, lecithin cholesterol acyltransferase (LCAT) which, through this action, converts LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol -- increasing HDL and reducing LDL.  (Statins cannot do this.)
    In the interest of brevity, I'll conclude by saying that whereas statins are known to reduce cholesterol and perhaps achieve other cardiovascular benefits, this is due in large part to their suppression of mevalonate, brought about by their inhibition of HMG-CoA reductase.
    In contrast, magnesium not only inhibits HMG-CoA reductase, meaning that it would achieve the same results as statins in "1, 2, and 3 above," but it also converts LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol, achieved by its activation of LCAT, which is something that statins do less consistently.
    Further, instead of poisoning HMG-CoA reductase as statins do, magnesium inhibits it in ways that can be reactivated by other (magnesium dependent) enzymes so that the body can naturally make the mevalonate and cholesterol it needs.
    This is important because vitamin D is synthesized from cholesterol (when using the sun's rays), and cholesterol is also the precursor to testosterone, estrogen, and other steroids.
    So I encourage you to consider using Magnesium for those Apo-B cases that cannot be addressed by carbohydrate restricted diets.

  • JK

    10/30/2011 4:58:10 PM |

    Sorry, meant to say Apo-E cases.