Omega-3 fats won’t lower your risk of developing cancer, study finds

  • New research shows that omega-3 supplements may slightly raise a man’s risk of having prostate cancer.
  • Scientists also say evidence also reveals a small reduction in one’s odds of developing coronary heart disease.

NORWICH, England — Omega-3 fats have long been viewed as a natural aid in the fight against conditions like cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Unfortunately, a new study out of the University of East Anglia is throwing some cold water on that wishful thinking.

Researchers say that two new systematic reviews have revealed essentially no benefit to omega-3 consumption in regards to cancer. In fact, the research actually concluded that omega-3 supplements may increase a man’s risk of prostate cancer. Meanwhile, there were some observed omega-3 benefits in the way of reducing coronary heart disease risk. To be clear, though, both of these effects were very small.

For instance, imagine 1,000 people consistently take omega-3 supplements for roughly four years. According to this study’s calculations, approximately three people would escape heart disease, six people would avoid a heart attack, and an extra three men would regretfully develop prostate cancer.

“Our previous research has shown that long-chain omega 3 supplements, including fish oils, do not protect against conditions such as anxiety, depression, stroke, diabetes or death,” says lead author Dr Lee Hooper, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, in a release.

There’s no denying that small amounts of omega-3 fats are indeed beneficial, and of course, these fats can be found in a variety of popular foods like nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. Additionally, many people choose to consume their omega-3 fats via over-the-counter supplements.

In all, the research team examined 47 previous trials that encompassed people who either had no cancer, were at an increased risk of cancer, or had previously been diagnosed with cancer. Also, another 86 trials were included that involved cardiovascular event cases or deaths. All of those initiatives added up to over 100,000 people who were randomly told to either up their intake of long-chain omega-3 fats or maintain their usual regiment for a period of at least a year.

Then, the amount of people in both groups who passed away, were diagnosed with cancer, or suffered a heart attack / stroke was tracked.

“These large systematic reviews included information from many thousands of people over long periods. This large amount of information has clarified that if we take omega 3 supplements for several years we may very slightly reduce our risk of heart disease, but balance this with very slightly increasing our risk of some cancers. The overall effects on our health are minimal,” Dr. Hooper adds.

“The evidence on omega 3 mostly comes from trials of fish oil supplements, so 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, rich in protein and energy as well as important micronutrients such as selenium, iodine, vitamin D and calcium – it is much more than an omega 3 source,” he continues.

In conclusion, Dr. Hooper believes the high demand for fish oil tablets is somewhat unjustified, considering omega-3 fats’ lack of proven cancer benefits, and the heavy toll that industrial fishing extracts from the environment and overall fish populations.

The study is published in the British Journal of Cancer.