Fish oil pills are among the world's most popular nutritional supplements, with millions of people taking them to prevent heart disease. However, an alarming new study linking fish oil to prostate cancer has many men reconsidering whether they should take the capsules.
A top cardiologist has simple advice for those on the fence: Keep taking fish oil.
"My patients who take fish oil supplements have better cholesterol profiles and live longer than those who don't," Dr. Chauncey Crandall tells Newsmax Health. "It will take a lot more than this one study to convince me that there’s a downside to fish oil supplements."
Researchers found that fish oil supplements were associated with a 71 percent increased risk of aggressive "high-grade" prostate cancer. The study also found a 44 percent increase in the risk of less-aggressive "low-grade" prostate cancer and an overall 43 percent increase in risk for all prostate cancers. The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Dr. Crandall, chief of the cardiac transplant program at the Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic, says the research is flawed and notes the findings were not based on a clinical trial — the gold standard of medical studies in which one group of individuals is given a particular treatment or supplement and then compared to a similar, untreated group.
"This study was based on a review of observational studies, not research that compares the results in which men who take fish oil are compared with those who do not," he notes.
Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil have been linked to a host of health benefits in other studies. In fact, the most recent revisions to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2010 recommend consumers substitute high-fat protein sources with more seafood, including fatty fish.
"Fish oil is my first choice of therapy when it comes to lowering triglycerides," says Dr. Crandall, author of the Heart Health Report
"I try fish oil supplements first instead of drugs."
Research has found that triglycerides, which are now termed "the ugly cholesterol," are even more dangerous than the so-called "bad" LDL cholesterol, when it comes to raising the risks for some forms of cardiovascular disease like stroke, he explains.
"Fish oil supplements also are an effective blood thinner, and it is blood clots that are responsible for causing heart attack and stroke," he says.
A further benefit of fish oil supplements is that they reduce inflammation, Dr. Crandall notes. The fish oil compound DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) has long been known to have anti-inflammatory effects. Chronic inflammation has been linked with ills ranging from cancer to diabetes to Alzheimer's disease.
Another indication of the benefit of fish oil comes from the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. "I’ve seen the Mediterranean diet work miracles in my patients," Dr. Crandall says. He notes that a comprehensive study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in March found that the Mediterranean diet cut the risk of cardiovascular events by 30 percent, even in people at high risk for them.
Dr. Crandall recommends taking 2,000 mg of fish oil supplement daily. Stick to major brands to avoid getting inferior, or even counterfeit, capsules, he advises. Fish oil products manufactured in the U.S. or imported from Scandinavian countries are the most reliable.
You don’t need fish oil pills if you get omega-3s straight from the source, Dr. Crandall says.
"Eating cold-water fish – like salmon, trout, and sardines – fresh, not farmed, three times a week will supply you with the omega-3 fatty acids you need," he says. "Our goal should always be to get back to the natural food source."
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