You might be as confused as I am with all the latest news about DHA the omega 3 fatty acid found in fish oil. Fish oil has enjoyed an almost pedestal like status in the health realm these last years. We have been told every which way how fish oil can benefit us. It’s good for our heart, reduces triglycerides, reduces inflammation, is important for mood health, helps cognitive growth in babies, helps prevent cognitive decline in adults – just to name some of the reasons we need it. So what are we to make of the new information out this week that it actually might be causing the growth of aggressive prostate cancers? I am reminded of the Vitamin E and lung cancer trial which had to be abandoned when it was found that lung cancers were growing in those who took the vitamin E. What a shock that was too. But this time it isn’t even supplements. Read on.
It seems that the men who had the highest amounts of saturated fat and trans fatty acids had a 50% reduction in the likelihood of getting the aggressive cancer. The researchers are pretty much at a loss about these results and said something along the lines of – it just goes to show how complex nutrition science- and the interaction between disease is – and that we should study things rigorously and not make assumptions. Now right here, and before we go any further I want to state that without any doubt at all trans fats do not play any healthy part in your diet. At least the synthetic variety doesn’t. They are harmful and dangerous and I would hate anyone to be misled into thinking maybe trans fats aren’t that bad. Naturally occurring trans fats are a different kettle of fish (pardon pun). Conjugated Linoleic Acid is a naturally occurring trans fat and the difference between the natural kind and the artificial kind is that one can help and the other will hurt.
This new research is obtained from the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial where 3,000 men 55 years and older were included in a subset of data from a larger trial. Of the 3,000 men half got prostate cancer. Now it’s tempting to think that maybe the men were taking mega amounts of fish oil, but that’s not the case. There weren’t many of them at all that took supplements. Their DHA was mostly consumed from fish. But I’d like to know more about the lifestyle and the overall diets, how the fish was prepared, deep fried, battered, breaded or was grilled or poached? Was it canned fish, farmed fish, or highly polluted. What other kinds of foods did they eat? Were the men health freaks eating fish all the time, pursuing other healthy food options? Probably not. Health freaks would likely take fish oil supplements.
I guess the question is: What should we do now? Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid. It is called essential because it cannot be made by the body and we must eat it to get it – not only that we need it and deficiencies result without it. The term omega 3 just refers to the chemical structure of the fat. There is more than one kind of omega 3 too – there are lots – but the ones we need the most of are ALA, EPA and DHA. Alpha linolenic acid or ALA is found in flax seeds and walnuts. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is found in fatty fish and krill oil. If you get enough ALA then your body can use it to make it EPA and DHA. But you don’t want to overdo it on ALA either because high amounts of this fatty acid have been linked to prostate cancer is several studies.
The researchers do not think that men should stop eating fish. They state that the benefits of reducing the risk of heart disease greatly outweigh the risk of getting prostate cancer.
Well, for what it’s worth this is what I think. If you are worried about heart disease and inflammation there are plenty of things you can do to reduce the risk of these without eating loads of fish oil. I’m not in any way suggesting that you don’t eat fish, but what about ‘everything in moderation’? That has worked for generations. Lifestyle has everything to do with it. It’s not possible to just take a multi-vitamin and then let the rest of your diet go to the devil and expect to remain healthy. On the other hand, it was only high level prostate cancer that was associated with highest levels of DHA, low level prostate cancer was not affected by DHA at all. So rather than focusing on taking supplements, or eating fish at every opportunity to prevent heart disease how about considering your overall lifestyle.
Inflammation in the body places you at greatest risk for cancers and heart disease. Maintaining a healthy body weight is really effective at reducing inflammation in the body. Visceral fat is the worst kind for promoting inflammation and getting rid of it is good thing for your heart, your arteries and your endocrine system. So hop on the treadmill or get out and about walking at a speed fast enough to raise your heartbeat, get to the gym, take the stairs – whatever you have to do to get the heart and vascular system working. Belly fat responds well to overall weight loss and eating loads of antioxidants reduces inflammation. Vitamin A and Beta Carotene, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, and selenium are antioxidants that found abundantly in foods. Get Vitamin A and Beta Carotene from orange and yellow fruits and vegetables. Get vitamin C from citrus fruits, strawberries, apples, kiwi fruits, leafy greens, bell peppers. Get Vitamin E from nuts and seeds and avocados, and get selenium from brazil nuts. Three brazil nuts a day is all you need. Colorful fruit and vegetables contain loads of other non vitamin antioxidants like lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene.
Sugar is very inflammatory and will put your triglycerides up too. So avoiding too much of that is a good thing to do for your vascular system. A glass of red wine reduces inflammation and protects the heart, red grapes do the same. It’s the resveratrol in the skins of the grapes. Including some good fats daily reduces inflammation. Having a moderate amount of fat in your diet is healthy; having a LOT is inflammatory so you want to keep your fat intake to a moderate amount. Monounsaturated fats like avocado, olives and some nuts give you this.
The bottom line is that if you adopt a healthy lifestyle and diet you will tip the scales in your favor against developing disease. If you do take fish oil supplements consider how much you are taking. Some doctors recommend up to 4000mg per day which is quite a lot. Fish oil can reduce triglycerides but so can cutting back on sugars, carbohydrates and alcohol. Get my drift?
Be fussy with your fish. Eat only good quality fish and cook it at a low heat. Avoid fish from polluted rivers and lakes. Treat yourself to wild caught fish from clean areas. Farmed fish contains colouring and pollutants. Be mindful that fish is a finite resource and take care when you buy it. Go for fish that is caught in a eco friendly manner. Fish, especially salmon is being over-fished and some fish like ocean perch, formerly called orange roughy are threatened. Classy act how ‘they’ changed the name to ocean perch when people quit buying so much orange roughy. Anyways….that’s another story. Include legumes, pulses and grains several times per week. Modify your risk factors with lifestyle and a varied healthy diet. Let’s wait and see what new research brings. If I hear anything I will surely let you know.