FISH OILS – ARE THEY SAFE ?

During late 2013,  a variety of headlines attempted to scare us half to death… “Dietary supplementation with vitamin E and Fish Oils can significantly increase the risk of prostate cancer among healthy men,” stated one such headline. When my husband saw this he immediately wanted to stop taking his Omega 3 fish oils, which would have been WRONG……

Allow me to set the record straight.  Now if like me you find certain scientific information complex, I have tried my best to simplify a highly complex subject – therefore you may find it useful to read the following comments twice.

This saga on Fish Oils originated from something called the SELECT study   (The selenium and vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial), which was funded by the National Cancer Institute of America. Its results were first published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2009.  The SELECT group studied 32,400 participants, covering 245 study centres throughout the States, Puerto Rico and Canada.  Remember they were only testing to see if taking Vitamin E and selenium decreased the likelihood of contracting cancers and at the end of the trial they concluded they would not…. I’ll return to why later on.

BUT, at the onset of that SELECT study every participant had ONE blood test on their Omega 3 fatty acid levels…. That was it.  One test.

Then a recently released re-analysis of the original SELECT data – conducted by researchers from Ohio State University Cancer Centre, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Centre in Seattle, Washington reported In the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, was widely reported as suggesting that they had found a correlation between men who fish oils or ate oily fish may increase the risk of aggressive prostate cancer.

Robert Jacobs, a naturopath based at Health Natural in London says ‘ It’s really important to note that this study was a correlation- based study that did not test for actual ‘cause’ of any disease but merely an association between variables. It is a HYPOTHESIS and was not intended to show cause and affect’

Dr Joyal of the Life Extension Foundation says ‘ The danger of this deeply flawed compromised analysis is that ageing men obtaining health information from the main stream media – will cease Omega Fatty Acid Ingestion.’

He’s right. My husband is back to taking 2 grams a day, every day! To my mind, it’s rather like saying that men who wear green socks every day are more likely to die of cancer.   It’s nonsense.

In fact, all the experts I have spoken to in writing this information said that if you look at the huge body of positive published evidence on EPA, DHA found in oily fish and capsules, if eating oily fish was causing health problems – then countries with the highest oily fish intake would surely have the highest levels of prostate cancer  – whereas the fact remains that in countries like Japan and Finland where they eat high levels of oily fish, they enjoy very low levels of prostate cancers. Additionally a number of Mediterranean countries with high fish intake also have lower risk.    Oily fish and fish oil are well-researched preventives of heart disease ironically the most likely cause of death amongst prostate cancer sufferers.

Now, we can get back to why the SELECT study found that taking Vitamin E and selenium did not prevent cancer.  Nutritionist Gareth Zeal told me ‘This is because in that original SELECT study, the participants were given 400 iu daily of a synthetic form of vitamin E known as Alpha Tocopherol, for a minimum of seven years and they had a 17% higher incidence of prostate cancer than the those who did not take the vitamin E.  Yet it’s vital to understand that this synthetic form of  Vitamin E contains just one of the four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta) found in vitamin E complex. Both synthetic and natural forms of alpha-tocopherol are antioxidants, but the natural form is more powerful’.

‘Large doses of alpha-tocopherol (synthetic and natural)’ says Zeal  ‘deplete gamma-tocopherol levels in the body. Men in SELECT’s “vitamin E” group showed a 45% decrease in their Gamma-tocopherol levels within six months – very early in the trial. The decrease continued throughout the study. Like alpha-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol is a powerful antioxidant; but it has anticancer effects that the alpha form does not. And if you take the Alpha on its own, you will deplete the body of Gamma, which is the one that helps protect the body against many cancers including prostate. And in the SELECT study full spectrum Vitamin E was never tested!’

Hence why Zeal and all the latest cutting edge research shows that anyone taking vitamin E needs to take a FULL SPECTRUM form which has far more protective properties.

Stephen Langley (MSc, ND, DipHom, DBM, OMD a Naturopath, homeopath, medical herbalist and a doctor of Chinese Medicine with more than 30 years experience in this field (and Co-Author of my Healthy Cookery Book) adds his weight to this whole Fish Oil, Vitamin E debate by saying ‘ Every cell wall in the body is made up of fats. They are very important as they allow oxygen and nutrients to get into the cells and they help waste products to be removed from cells. Depending on the type of cell they primarily cells use Omega 3 fats  (known as Essential fats as they are essential to life) to keep cell walls flexible – but – if a person does not take sufficient Omega 3 fats from their diet or via supplements, then the body uses whatever fats it can find to make cell walls, including the ‘bad’ fats; such as Hydrogenated, trans fats and excess saturated fats, which in time causes cell walls to become stiff. This in turn reduces oxygenation and nutrient uptake into the cells and impairs detoxification.’

‘Bad Fats’ says Langley ‘will displace the good EFA’s. Yet in these studies no-one was asked about their diet because IF they ate excessive animal fats, or trans or Hydrogenated fats, these would neutralise the beneficial affects of the Omega 3 essential fats.

With these facts in mind Langley says that the whole issue of fats is hugely misunderstood. He weighs further into the debate by adding ‘ Because Omega 3 fats are polyunsaturated fats they can oxidise in the body and turn rancid and in these studies no-one ever asked how many and what types of fats the participants were taking.  It is important to note that this is NOT the case with organic unrefined plant-based polyunsaturated fatty acids such as flaxseed (linseed) oil, which naturally contain in built vitamin E (a fat soluble antioxidant). This could be a vital ‘missing link’ in their conclusions, because to prevent Omega 3’s becoming rancid you need to be taking a full spectrum of Vitamin E – not the synthetic isolated form!! No one necessarily has to take extra Omega 3’s   or vitamin E in the form of capsules if they are ingesting sufficient in their diets but the 2 need to go together. ‘

The message is clear, we all need Omega 3 fats, which are essential to life, we also need Omega 6’s, 9’s and full spectrum E. These can be obtained from all oily fish, hemp and linseeds and oils, avocados, hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, wheat germ; pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, Brazil and Walnuts and wholegrains such as Spelt and Quinoa. Other healthy fats are found in raw, organic coconut butter/oil.   For more information CLICK HERE to go straight to my FATS YOU NEED TO EAT SELF HELP SHEET