The media were quick to pick up on the anti-supplement data of a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that linked omega-3 to a higher prostate cancer risk. This prompted widespread criticism from the health products industry, natural health media and academic experts.

Are supplements harmful?

The study – led by Theodore Brasky, who is PhD of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, USA, and the paper’s senior author, Dr Alan Kristal – was reported to have said, “We’ve shown once again that use of nutritional supplements may be harmful.” However, the investigators apparently did not evaluate diets or record any data on fish-oil supplement intake.

In support of the international natural health industry, the Vice-President for Scientific and Regulatory Affairs on the US-based Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), Duffy Mackay, also highlighted the fact that “the researchers were quick to blame dietary supplements, even though there is no evidence that anybody in this study took fish-oil dietary supplements.â?

Did the study misrepresent omega-3?

In addition, the International Alliance of Dietary Food Supplement Association (IADSA) made it clear that the study â??was not specifically designed to look at the exact relationship between ‘omega-3 fatty acid’ intake and ‘prostate cancer.â?? It was in fact designed to investigate the effects of selenium and vitamin E on prostate cancer prevention.”

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“Hundreds of studies over the past two decades have shown omega-3 fatty acids to have positive effects associated with cardiovascular health, perinatal health, inflammation, cognitive function, or cancer…” – Duffy Mackay, Vice-President for Scientific and Regulatory Affairs on the Council for Responsible Nutrition[/su_pullquote]

IADSA reiterated what had already been pointed out by the natural health industry and the CRN, â??There is no data in the study on dietary intakes of fish-oils or oily fish consumption, or to support ingestion of omega-3 supplements. Hence no firm conclusions can be drawn with regard to omega-3 fatty acid intake and prostate cancer risk. It does not demonstrate cause and effect and hence it cannot be concluded that omega-3 fatty acids have a causative role in the development of prostate cancer.”

Closer to home, Mr Bruce Dennison, President of the Health Products Association of South Africa (HPA), also took a strong stand against the study which clearly seems to have misrepresented the truth. â??The Health Products Association of South Africa contests recent research from the US reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute linking omega-3 and prostate cancer as inconclusive and contradictory to a large pool of pre-existing, robust evidence that demonstrates the health benefits of fish-oil. We trust that the South African media will treat this information with great caution, as it is clearly a stranger to the truth.â?

The benefits if Omega-3

Fish oil is one of the most researched substances on the market and has been consistently proven to have a wide range of health benefits.

“The numerous benefits of omega-3 fatty acids from foods such as salmon and sardines, as well as dietary supplements, are well-established for men and women in all stages of life,â? says Dennison. â??This new study does not change the recommendations about the importance of this nutrient.â?

Dennison is supported by the CRN’s Duffy Mackay, who added, “Hundreds of studies over the past two decades have shown omega-3 fatty acids to have positive effects associated with cardiovascular health, perinatal health, inflammation, cognitive function, or cancer. Collectively, this body of research serves as the basis for numerous recommendations from respected organisations, scientific boards and healthcare practitioners that Americans get omega-3 fatty acids in their diets.”

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