New research is turning conventional wisdom on its head and has found that consuming omega-3 supplements may actually increase your risk of some cancers instead of reducing it.
Omega-3 supplements can slightly reduce coronary heart disease mortality and events, but slightly increase the risk of prostate cancer, according to two systematic reviews published in the British Journal of Cancer and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
“These large systematic reviews contained information from many thousands of people over long periods of time,” said lead author Lee Hooper of Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia in the UK.
“This vast amount of information has made it clear that if we take omega-3 supplements for several years we can easily reduce our risk of heart disease, but can offset this with a very slight increase in our risk of some cancers. The overall impact on our health is minimal, “” said Hooper.
The researchers found that both the positive and harmful effects of omega-3 supplements are minor.
If 1,000 people took omega-3 supplements for about four years, three people would avoid dying from heart disease, six people would avoid a coronary event (like a heart attack), and three more people would get prostate cancer.
Omega-3 is a type of fat. Small amounts are essential to good health and can be found in the foods we eat, including nuts and seeds and oily fish like salmon.
These fats are also available as over-the-counter diet supplements and are widely purchased and used.
The research team looked at 47 studies in adults who did not have cancer who were at increased risk of cancer or had a previous diagnosis of cancer, and 86 studies with evidence of cardiovascular events or death.
More than 100,000 participants were randomized to consume more long-chain omega-3 fats (fish oils) for at least a year or to maintain their normal intake.
They looked at the number of people who died, were newly diagnosed with cancer, heart attacks or strokes, and / or died from any of the diseases.
“The evidence for omega-3 has largely come from experiments with fish oil supplements, so the health effects of oily fish, a rich source of long-chain omega-3, are unclear. Oily fish is a very nutritious food as part of a balanced diet, high in protein and energy as well as important micronutrients like selenium, iodine, vitamin D and calcium – it’s much more than an omega-3 source, “said Hooper.
“But we’ve found that people who take omega-3 oil supplements to prevent or treat cancer have no demonstrable value. In fact, we’ve found that they can very easily increase the risk of cancer, particularly prostate cancer,” added Hooper.
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